Background: Nitric oxide (NO) has been implicated as a mediator of penile erection, because the neuronal isoform of NO synthase (NOS) is localized to the penile innervation and NOS inhibitors selectively block erections. NO can also be formed by two other NOS isoforms derived from distinct genes, inducible NOS (iNOS) and endothelial NOS (eNOS). To clarify the source of NO in penile function, we have examined mice with targeted deletion of the nNOS gene (nNOS- mice).
Materials and methods: Mating behavior, electrophysiologically induced penile erection, isolated erectile tissue isometric tension, and eNOS localization by immunohistochemistry and Western blot were performed on nNOS- mice and wild-type controls.
Results: Both intact animal penile erections and isolated erectile tissue function are maintained in nNOS mice, in agreement with demonstrated normal sexual behaviors, but is stereospecifically blocked by the NOS inhibitor, L-nitroarginine methyl ester (L-NAME). eNOS is abundantly present in endothelium of penile vasculature and sinusoidal endothelium within the corpora cavemosa, with levels that are significantly higher in nNOS- mice than in wild-type controls.
Conclusions: eNOS mediates NO-dependent penile erection in nNOS- animals and normal penile erection. These data clarify the role of nitric oxide in penile erection and may have implications for therapeutic agents with selective effects on NOS isoforms.