Oxytocinergic neurons, but not oxytocin, are crucial for male penile erection

Neuropharmacology. 2023 Sep 1:235:109576. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2023.109576. Epub 2023 May 8.


The cumulative evidence suggests that oxytocin is involved in the male sexual behaviors. However, no significant sexual impairments were observed in oxytocin gene knock-out (KO) mice, suggesting that oxytocin is not necessary for sexual behavior in male mice. To better understand the role of oxytocin in male erection, two types of oxytocin gene KO mice were created. In the first type, the oxytocin gene was deleted in the zygote, while in the second type, the oxytocin gene was mutated in adulthood by injecting the CRISPR/Cas9 AAVs. The results showed that disrupting the oxytocin gene at either the embryonic or adult stage did not affect erection, indicating that oxytocin is not necessary for penile erection. Pharmacologically, injecting oxytocin receptor agonist Carbetocin into the VTA of the oxytocin gene KO mice still evoked penile erection. By employing the Oxt-Ires-Cre mice, we found that specifically activating oxytocinergic neurons through chemogenetics strongly induced penile erection, while inhibiting these neurons blocked the erection responses. Furthermore, ablating PVN oxytocinergic neurons abolished the male erection response. In conclusion, although the neuropeptide oxytocin is not essential for male erection, the activity of oxytocinergic neurons is required. Our results might reflect the redundancy in the central nerve system in the sense that many signals contribute to the activation of oxytocinergic neurons to evoke penile erection during sexual behaviors.

Keywords: CRISPR/Cas9; Chemogenetic; Erection; Oxytocin; Paraventricular nucleus of hypothalamus (PVN).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neurons* / physiology
  • Oxytocin* / metabolism
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus
  • Penile Erection* / physiology
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / genetics


  • Receptors, Oxytocin
  • Oxytocin