Hypercholesterolemia and other vascular risk factors for atherosclerosis are commonly associated with impotence. To characterize cavernosal smooth muscle reactivity in hypercholesterolemia, we performed isometric tension studies (with norepinephrine, acetylcholine, papaverine and electrical field stimulation) on isolated strips of corpus cavernosum from rabbits fed a 1% cholesterol diet. To assess the impact of cholesterol reduction, a group of rabbits was fed a cholesterol diet for 4 weeks and was then returned to a normal diet for 4 weeks before testing. Potential structure-function relationships were delineated by ultrastructural evaluation with transmission electron microscopy (TEM). All forms of cavernosal relaxation, including papaverine relaxation, were impaired with hypercholesterolemia, and norepinephrine contraction was augmented. In addition, ultrastructural evidence of an early atherosclerotic process in the cavernosal sinusoids was detected. Importantly, reduction of elevated serum cholesterol normalized cavernosal relaxation, including that of papaverine, and decreased the sensitivity to norepinephrine, thereby suggesting that cavernosal smooth muscle dysfunction in hypercholesterolemia is reversible.
- penile erection
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