Role of central nitric oxide in the control of penile erection and yawning

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 1997 Aug;21(6):899-922. doi: 10.1016/s0278-5846(97)00088-2.


1. Recent experimental evidence has shown that nitric oxide (NO) plays an important role in the expression of penile erection and yawning and that this molecule has to be added to the list of the best known neurotransmitters and neuropeptides involved in this symptomatology. 2. This was first suggested by the ability of NO synthase inhibitors injected in the lateral ventricles (i.c.v.) or in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN) to prevent these behavioral responses induced by dopamine agonists, oxytocin and NMDA. The inhibitory effect of NO synthase inhibitors was not observed when these compounds were injected concomitantly with L-arginine, the precursor of NO. Most important, this hypothalamic nucleus is one of the richest brain areas of NO synthase and also the brain site where dopamine, NMDA and oxytocin act to induce penile erection and yawning by activating central NO synthase containing oxytocinergic neurons. 3. NO synthase inhibitors given i.c.v. but not in the PVN prevent also penile erection and yawning induced by ACTH and serotonin1c agonists, which induce these responses by acting with mechanisms unrelated to oxytocinergic transmission. 4. Dopamine agonists, NMDA and oxytocin increase NO production in the PVN at doses that induce penile erection and yawning, as determined by measuring the concentration of NO2- and NO3- in the dialyzate obtained with a vertical probe implanted in the PVN by in vivo microdialysis. 5. NO donors, such as nitroglycerin, sodium nitroprusside and hydroxylamine, induce penile erection and yawning indistinguishable from those induced by oxytocin, dopamine agonists or NMDA when injected in the PVN. The NO donor response was prevented by the i.c.v. injection of the oxytocin receptor antagonist d(CH2)5-Tyr(Me)-Orn8-vasotocin, indicating that these compounds also induce penile erection and yawning by activating oxytocinergic transmission. 6. Finally, guanylate cyclase inhibitors (i.e. methylene blue and LY 83583) and hemoglobin injected in the PVN do not prevent drug-induced penile erection and yawning, nor 8-Br-cGMP injected in the PVN induces these behavioral responses suggesting that the mechanism by means of which endogenous or NO donor-derived NO facilitates oxytocinergic transmission to induce penile erection and yawning is not related to the activation of guanylate cyclase. Furthermore, since hemoglobin, in spite of its ability to prevent drug-induced NO production in the PVN, does not prevent penile erection and yawning, it is likely that NO acts as an intracellular rather than an intercellular modulator in the PVN neurons in which is formed to facilitate the expression of these behavioral responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Dopamine Agonists / pharmacology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Guanylate Cyclase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • N-Methylaspartate / physiology
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Oxytocin / physiology
  • Penile Erection / drug effects
  • Penile Erection / physiology*
  • Second Messenger Systems
  • Yawning / drug effects
  • Yawning / physiology*


  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Oxytocin
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Guanylate Cyclase
  • Dopamine