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Eur J Endocrinol. 2000 Aug;143(2):143-54.

Erectile dysfunction: from biochemical pharmacology to advances in medical therapy.

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Andrology Unit, Department of Clinical Physiopathology, University of Florence, Italy.


Research on penile smooth muscle physiology has increased the number of drugs available for treating erectile dysfunction (ED). Penile erection involves the relaxation of smooth muscle in the corpus cavernosum. The key mediator of smooth muscle relaxation is nitric oxide (NO), which acts by increasing the cellular level of cGMP. Another cyclic nucleotide, cAMP, is involved in smooth muscle cell relaxation; cAMP formation is stimulated by a number of compounds, such as alprostadil. An increase in cAMP and/or cGMP levels can also be induced by inhibition of phosphodiesterases (PDEs), the enzymes involved in cyclic nucleotide breakdown. Both papaverine and sildenafil are PDE inhibitors. Papaverine is a non-specific inhibitor of these enzymes; sildenafil is an orally active, potent and selective inhibitor of GMP-specific PDE5, the predominant isoenzyme metabolizing cGMP in the cells of the corpus cavernosum. Penile smooth muscle contraction, induced by adrenergic fibers through alpha(1) adrenoceptors, produces detumescence, thus making alpha adrenoceptor antagonists suitable for maintenance of penile erection. The orally active drug yohimbine is a mixed alpha(1)-alpha(2) adrenoceptor antagonist that works by a dual mechanism; it facilitates sexual arousal by acting on alpha(2) adrenoceptors in the central nervous system and blocks adrenergic influences at peripheral level.

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