Trouble Keeping It Up? Researchers Now Know Why

By Amir Khan on September 30, 2012 8:50 AM EDT

Researchers have long known what needs to happen in the body for a man to get an erection. However, what it took to keep one has been a mystery. But now, researchers have uncovered the chain of events that must unfold to maintain an erection and have published the results in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers said the findings could lead to new therapies for men with erectile dysfunction.

"We've closed a gap in our knowledge," Arthur Burnett, M.D., professor of urology at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the senior author of the study, said in a statement. "We knew that the release of the chemical nitric oxide, a neurotransmitter that is produced in nerve tissue, triggers an erection by relaxing muscles that allow blood to fill the penis. We thought that was just the initial stimulus. In our research, we wanted to understand what happens next to enable that erection to be maintained."

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Researchers conducted the study in mice, and found that the penile nerves trigger the release of nitric oxide, which keeps the penis erect -- a key finding. A 20-year-old study first showed that nitric oxide was produced by penile tissue. This most recent study completes the chain.

Now, 20 years later, we know that nitric oxide is not just a blip here or there, but instead it initiates a cyclic system that continues to produce waves of the neurotransmitter from the penile nerves," Burnett said.

Ultimately, the findings could lead to new treatments for erectile dysfunction, researchers said.

"The target for new therapies would be the protein kinase A (PKA) phosphorylation of neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS). Now that we know the mechanism for causing the 'activated' form of nNOS in penile nerves, we can develop agents that exploit this mechanism to help with erection difficulties," Burnetet said.

Solomon S. Snyder, another of the study's coauthors, echoed his statement.

"It has been a 20-year journey to complete our understanding of this process," Snyder said. "Now it may be possible to develop therapies to enhance or facilitate the process."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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