Cavernous and systemic testosterone plasma levels during different penile conditions in healthy males and patients with erectile dysfunction

A J Becker, S Uckert, C G Stief, F Scheller, W H Knapp, U Hartmann, U Jonas
Urology 2001, 58 (3): 435-40

OBJECTIVES: To determine the testosterone plasma levels in the cavernous and peripheral blood taken during different penile conditions from patients with erectile dysfunction (ED) and to evaluate whether these courses are different from those detected in the blood of healthy males. Although the determination of the systemic testosterone concentration (TC) has been fairly well established in the diagnostic workup of ED, the exact role of testosterone in adult male sexual function remains unclear.

METHODS: Blood samples were drawn simultaneously from the corpus cavernosum and cubital vein of 54 healthy males with normal erectile function and 46 patients with ED during the penile stages of flaccidity, tumescence, rigidity (reached by the healthy males only), and detumescence. Tumescence and rigidity were induced by audiovisual and tactile stimulation. The TC was determined by means of a radioimmunoassay.

RESULTS: In the flaccid phase, the TC in the cavernous blood taken from the healthy volunteers was 2.9 +/- 1.2 ng/mL. The TC significantly increased during tumescence (4.3 +/- 1.3 ng/mL) and rigidity (4.4 +/- 1.4 ng/mL), P <0.001. In the detumescence phase, the TC decreased appreciably to 3.5 +/- 1.4 ng/mL. In the systemic blood, the increase from flaccidity (4.1 +/- 1.1 ng/mL) to tumescence (4.4 +/- 1.4 ng/mL) was found to be less pronounced but, nevertheless, significant (P = 0.001). No further increase was detected during rigidity. From rigidity to detumescence, the systemic TC dropped to 4.1 +/- 1.2 ng/mL. In the patients with ED, the mean increase in systemic and cavernous testosterone levels from flaccidity (cubital vein 3.0 +/- 1.0 ng/mL, corpus cavernosum 2.6 +/- 1.0 ng/mL) to tumescence (cubital vein 3.2 +/- 1.1 ng/mL, corpus cavernosum 3.0 +/- 1.0 ng/mL) was less pronounced. Nevertheless, the course of testosterone detected in the systemic and cavernous plasma of the patients during flaccidity, tumescence, and detumescence resembled that registered in the healthy controls. In the flaccid phase, the mean cavernous TC in the healthy subjects was found to be 30% lower than the level in the peripheral blood; in the patients with ED, this difference was only 13%.

CONCLUSIONS: In the healthy males, the penile erection was accompanied by an increase in the cavernous and peripheral TC. The difference between the peripheral and cavernous TC in the healthy subjects and patients with ED in the flaccid phase, when the blood flow through the cavernous body is minimized, might be a diagnostic tool to evaluate the amount of bioavailable testosterone, as well as the density of testosterone receptors, in the cavernous smooth musculature.

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