Nonenzymatic glycosylation (glycation) of proteins, often referred to as the Maillard reaction, has been proposed to play a role in age and diabetes-related processes by forming protein and DNA adducts and cross-links. These cross-links may contribute to erectile dysfunction by scavenging nitric oxide, which is needed for erection. As the basis for a possible role of the advanced Maillard reaction in age-related erectile dysfunction, we investigated the presence of the specific advanced glycation endproduct (AGE) pentosidine in penile corpus cavernosum tissue and penile tunica albuginea tissue as a function of age. A total of 23 penile tissue specimens were obtained at autopsy, from which 19 samples of tunica albuginea and 21 samples of corpus cavernosum were derived. In addition, 13 penile corporal and tunical specimens were procured at the time of insertion of a penile prosthesis, from which 12 tunica albugineal specimens and 10 samples of corpus cavernosum were derived. Collagen was extracted with acetic acid and pepsin digestion, and the final insoluble collagen product was acid-hydrolyzed with 6 N HCL for 24 h at 110 degrees C. Pentosidine was quantified by high-performance liquid chromatography using a reverse-phase column. The level of pentosidine (expressed in picomoles per milligram of insoluble collagen) was found to increase with age in cadaver as well as living penile corporal and tunical albugineal tissues. Best-fit analysis revealed an exponential increase in both types of cadaver penile tissue, with regression equations of y = 15.29 x 10(9.9e-3x), R2 = 0.79, being obtained in the tunica and y = 13.2 x 10(7.63e-3x), R2 = 0.56, in the corpora. These correspond to 6- and 4-fold increases in pentosidine levels from puberty to the age of 100 years (P < 0.05), respectively. Mean pentosidine levels were higher in the tunica than in the corpora. Comparison of pentosidine levels in the tunica versus the corpora revealed a weakly linear correlation (y = 24.88 + 1.08x, R2 = 0.32). Levels in the tunical and corporal specimens from the living human specimens fell with the predicted confidence intervals of the cadaveric tissue. Tunical specimens from patients who underwent repair or revision of a previously inserted penile prosthesis had very low levels of pentosidine. The exponential age-related increase in pentosidine observed in both types of penile tissue suggests an impairment of collagen turnover, which could be related to the advanced glycation reaction in aging. It is not known whether pentosidine itself is directly associated with erectile dysfunction, but its formation is usually accompanied by extensive tissue modification. Formation of advanced Maillard reaction products, which is greatly accelerated in aging, diabetes, and uremia, could contribute to erectile dysfunction in these syndromes.