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J Neurobiol. 2000 May;43(2):198-205.

Neurturin is a neurotrophic factor for penile parasympathetic neurons in adult rat.

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Program of Molecular Neurobiology, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki, Finland.


Neurturin (NRTN), a member of the GDNF family of neurotrophic factors, promotes the survival and function of several neuronal populations in the peripheral and central nervous system. Recent gene ablation studies have shown that NRTN is a neurotrophic factor for many cranial parasympathetic and enteric neurons, whereas its significance for the sacral parasympathetic neurons has not been studied. NRTN signals via a receptor complex composed of the high-affinity binding receptor component GFRalpha2 and the transmembrane tyrosine kinase Ret. The aim of this study was to determine whether NRTN could be an endogenous trophic factor for penis-projecting parasympathetic neurons. NRTN mRNA was expressed in smooth muscle of penile blood vessels and corpus cavernosum in adult rat as well as in several intrapelvic organs, whereas GFRalpha2 and Ret mRNAs were expressed in virtually all cell bodies of the penile neurons, originating in the major pelvic ganglia. (125)I-NRTN injected into the shaft of the penis was retrogradely transported into the major pelvic and dorsal root ganglia. Mice lacking the GFRalpha2 receptor component had significantly less nitric oxide synthase-containing nerve fibers in the dorsal penile and cavernous nerves. In conclusion, these data suggest that NRTN acts as a target-derived survival and/or neuritogenic factor for penile erection-inducing postganglionic neurons.

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