Erectile dysfunction occurs frequently in human diabetes, and it is sometimes associated with hypogonadism. These conditions also develop in a model of insulin-dependent (type I) diabetes, the BB/WORdp (diabetic prone) rat but have not yet been investigated in the model of insulin-resistant (type II) diabetes, the BBZ/WOR rat. It is also unknown whether diabetes-related impotence is due to reduced levels of the mediator of penile erection, nitric oxide, caused by a decrease of nitric oxide synthase (NOS) in the penis. To clarify these questions, groups (n = 5-6) of diabetic BB/WORdp (insulin-maintained) and BBZ/WOR rats were age-matched with diabetic-resistant BB/WORdr and non-diabetic BB/WORdp rats and submitted to determinations of serum glucose, testosterone, and penile reflexes (cups and flips). Erectile dysfunction was found in all of type I and in most of type II diabetic animals (glycemias of 25.0 and 31.1 mM), at the selected mean ages of 310 and 180 days old, respectively. This was evidenced by over 95% decreases of erectile reflexes in both types of diabetes and was accompanied by 75% reduction of serum testosterone. Soluble NOS activity was measured in penile tissue from the diabetic rats with impaired erectile reflexes and in the corresponding controls, by the (3H)-L-arginine/citrulline conversion assay. The neuronal NOS isoform (nNOS) content was determined by a semiquantitative western blot assay. Both types of diabetes showed a marked decrease of penile NOS activity (74 and 55%, respectively), and a lower reduction of penile nNOS content (47 and 33%, respectively). No endogenous NOS inhibitor was detected in the diabetic type I penile cytosol by cross-mixing NOS activity assays. Our data support a common etiology for erectile dysfunction present in rats with types I and II diabetes mellitus and suggest that the etiology is related to a decrease of penile NOS derived in part from serum androgen deficiency.