Inhibition of Rho-kinase improves erectile function, increases nitric oxide signaling and decreases penile apoptosis in a rat model of cavernous nerve injury

Johanna L Hannan, Maarten Albersen, Omer Kutlu, Christian Gratzke, Christian G Stief, Arthur L Burnett, Jeffrey J Lysiak, Petter Hedlund, Trinity J Bivalacqua
Journal of Urology 2013, 189 (3): 1155-61

PURPOSE: Bilateral cavernous nerve injury results in up-regulation of ROCK signaling in the penis. This is linked to erectile dysfunction in an animal model of post-prostatectomy erectile dysfunction. We evaluated whether daily treatment with the ROCK inhibitor Y-27632 (Tocris Bioscience, Ellisville, Missouri) would prevent erectile dysfunction in a rat model of bilateral cavernous nerve injury.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Sprague-Dawley® rats underwent surgery to create sham (14) or bilateral (27) cavernous nerve injury. In the injury group 13 rats received treatment with Y-27632 (5 mg/kg twice daily) and 14 received vehicle. At 14 days after injury, rats underwent cavernous nerve stimulation to determine erectile function. Penes were assessed for neuronal and nitric oxide synthase membrane-endothelial nitric oxide synthase. ROCK2 was assessed by Western blot. Cyclic guanosine monophosphate was determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Cavernous homogenates were tested for ROCK and protein kinase G enzymatic activity. Penile apoptosis was evaluated using the Apostain technique (Alexis, San Diego, California). Data were analyzed on ROCK using ANOVA and the t test.

RESULTS: While erectile function was decreased in rats with bilateral cavernous nerve injury, daily administration of Y-27632 improved erectile responses. Injury decreased neuronal and nitric oxide synthase membrane-endothelial nitric oxide synthase but ROCK2 was significantly increased. Y-27632 treatment restored neuronal nitric oxide synthase, nitric oxide synthase membrane-endothelial nitric oxide synthase and cyclic guanosine monophosphate levels, and protein kinase G activity. Treatment significantly decreased ROCK2 protein and ROCK activity. There were significantly fewer apoptotic cells after treatment than in injured controls.

CONCLUSIONS: These results provide evidence for up-regulation of the RhoA/ROCK signaling pathway with detrimental effects on erectile function after bilateral cavernous nerve injury. ROCK inhibition improved erectile dysfunction associated with bilateral cavernous nerve injury by preserving penile nitric oxide bioavailability and decreasing penile apoptosis.

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