Sexual stimulation causes the release of neurotransmitters from cavernosal nerve endings and relaxation factors from endothelial cells lining the sinusoids. NOS produces NO from L-arginine, and this, in turn, produces other muscle-relaxing chemicals, such as cGMP and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which work via calcium channel and protein kinase mechanisms (see the image below). This results in the relaxation of smooth muscle in the arteries and arterioles that supply the erectile tissue, producing a dramatic increase in penile blood flow.
Factors that mediate contraction in the penis include noradrenaline, endothelin-1, neuropeptide Y, prostanoids, angiotensin II, and others not yet identified. Factors that mediate relaxation include acetylcholine, nitric oxide (NO), vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, pituitary adenylyl cyclase–activating peptide, calcitonin gene–related peptide, adrenomedullin, adenosine triphosphate, and adenosine prostanoids.
The most common treatment for erectile dysfunction is drugs known as phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. These include tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra), and sildenafil citrate (Viagra). These are effective for about 75% of men with erectile dysfunction. They are tablets that are taken around an hour before sex, and last between 4 and 36 hours. Sexual stimulation is required before an erection will occur. The PDE-5 inhibitors cause dilation of blood vessels in the penis to allow erection to occur, and help it to stay rigid. Men using nitrate medication (e.g. GTN spray or sublingual tablets for angina) should not use PDE-5 inhibitors.
Cross-sectional studies conducted at the time of diagnosis of BPH have failed to show consistent differences in testosterone levels between patients and controls. A prospective study also failed to demonstrate a correlation between testosterone and the development of BPH (Gann et al 1995). Clinical trials have shown that testosterone treatment of hypogonadal men does cause growth of the prostate, but only to the size seen in normal men, and also causes a small increase in prostate specific antigen (PSA) within the normal range (Rhoden and Morgentaler 2005). Despite growth of the prostate a number of studies have failed to detect any adverse effects on symptoms of urinary obstruction or physiological measurements such as flow rates and residual volumes (Snyder et al 1999; Kenny et al 2000, 2001). Despite the lack of evidence linking symptoms of BPH to testosterone treatment, it remains important to monitor for any new or deteriorating problems when commencing patients on testosterone treatment, as the small growth of prostate tissue may adversely affect a certain subset of individuals.
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