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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Jun 15;101(24):9121-6. Epub 2004 Jun 7.

RhoA/Rho-kinase suppresses endothelial nitric oxide synthase in the penis: a mechanism for diabetes-associated erectile dysfunction.

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  • 1Department of Urology, Tulane Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA.


Significant impairment in endothelial-derived nitric oxide is present in the diabetic corpus cavernosum. RhoA/Rho-kinase may suppress endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS). Here, we tested the hypothesis that RhoA/Rho-kinase contributes to diabetes-related erectile dysfunction and down-regulation of eNOS in the streptozotocin (STZ)-diabetic rat penis. Colocalization of Rho-kinase and eNOS protein was present in the endothelium of the corpus cavernosum. RhoA/Rho-kinase protein abundance and MYPT-1 phosphorylation at Thr-696 were elevated in the STZ-diabetic rat penis. In addition, eNOS protein expression, cavernosal constitutive NOS activity, and cGMP levels were reduced in the STZ-diabetic penis. To assess the functional role of RhoA/Rho-kinase in the penis, we evaluated the effects of an adeno-associated virus encoding the dominant-negative RhoA mutant (AAVTCMV19NRhoA) on RhoA/Rho-kinase and eNOS and erectile function in vivo in the STZ-diabetic rat. STZ-diabetic rats transfected with AAVCMVT19NRhoA had a reduction in RhoA/Rho-kinase and MYPT-1 phosphorylation at a time when cavernosal eNOS protein, constitutive NOS activity, and cGMP levels were restored to levels found in the control rats. There was a significant decrease in erectile response to cavernosal nerve stimulation in the STZ-diabetic rat. AAVT19NRhoA gene transfer improved erectile responses in the STZ-diabetic rat to values similar to control. These data demonstrate a previously undescribed mechanism for the down-regulation of penile eNOS in diabetes mediated by activation of the RhoA/Rho-kinase pathway. Importantly, these data imply that inhibition of RhoA/Rho-kinase improves eNOS protein content and activity thus restoring erectile function in diabetes.

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