Is serotonin significant for the control of penile flaccidity and detumescence in the human male?

Stefan Uckert, Mark H Fuhlenriede, Armin J Becker, Christian G Stief, Friedemann Scheller, Wolfram H Knapp, Wolf G Forssmann, Udo Jonas
Urological Research 2003, 31 (2): 55-60
For more then 15 years, there has been speculation on the significance of serotonergic pathways in the control of male sexual function, especially in the maintenance of penile flaccidity and the initiation of detumescence. However, only a few in vivo studies on peripheral serotonergic transmission have been carried out. The aim of the present study was to evaluate further the effects of serotonin (5-HT) on isolated human erectile tissue and to detect serum levels of 5-HT in the systemic and cavernous blood taken during different penile conditions from healthy males. The effects of 5-HT on isolated human corpus cavernosum (HCC) were investigated using the organ bath technique. A total of 41 healthy, adult male subjects were exposed to erotic stimuli in order to elicit penile tumescence and rigidity. Whole blood was simultaneously aspirated from the corpus cavernosum and the cubital vein during different penile conditions. Serum levels of 5-HT (ng/ml) were determined by means of an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The cumulative addition of 5-HT (0.001-10 microM) induced contraction in the isolated HCC strips. The contractile response was abolished in the presence of 5-HT(1alpha)-receptor antagonist NAN-190. No attenuating effect of 5-HT was observed on electrically induced relaxation of the tissue. Moreover, amplitudes of relaxation remained unaltered in the presence of NAN-190. In the healthy volunteers, a significant increase in 5-HT levels was detected in the cavernous serum from flaccidity (113+/-62) to tumescence and rigidity (140+/-69 and 141+/-54, respectively), followed by a decrease in the detumescence phase (123+/-79). Changes in 5-HT levels in the systemic serum were less pronounced. Under all penile conditions, systemic 5-HT levels were higher than those registered in the cavernous serum. Although 5-HT does not appear to be involved in postsynaptic transmission in the HCC, our results may provide evidence for a physiological significance of 5-HT in the control of penile flaccidity and detumescence. Thus, our findings may give a rationale for the use of 5-HT antagonists in the pharmacotherapy of erectile dysfunction.

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