Gene transfer to the penile corpora cavernosa of constructs of the inducible and endothelial nitric oxide synthase (NOS) cDNAs ameliorates erectile dysfunction in aged rats. In this study, we investigated whether the neuronal NOS (nNOS) variant responsible for erection, penile nNOS (PnNOS), can exert a similar effect, and whether the combination of electroporation with a helper-dependent adenovirus (AdV) improves gene transfer. PnNOS and β-galactosidase cDNAs were cloned in plasmid (pCMV-PnNOS; pCMV-β-gal) and “gutless” AdV (AdV-CMV-PnNOS; AdV-CMV-β-gal) vectors, and injected into the penis of adult (β-gal) or aged (PnNOS) rats, with or without electroporation. Penile erection was measured at different times after PnNOS cDNA injection, by electrical field stimulation of the cavernosal nerve. The expression of β-galactosidase or PnNOS was estimated in penile tissue by either histochemistry and luminometry or Western blot, and the effects of AdV-CMV-PnNOS on mRNA expression were examined by a DNA microarray. We found that electroporation increased pCMV-β-gal uptake, and its expression was detectable at 56 days. In the aged rats treated with pCMV-PnNOS and electroporation, the maximal intracavernosal:mean arterial pressure ratios were elevated for 11 and 18 days when compared with those in controls. Electroporation intensified penile uptake of as few as 106 viral particles (vp) of AdV-CMV-β-gal, and with 107 vp β-galactosidase was still detectable at 60 days. Electroporated AdV-CMV-PnNOS (107 vp) was effective at 18 days in stimulating the erection of aged rats, without inducing the expression of cytotoxic genes. In conclusion, intracavernosal gene therapy with PnNOS cDNA corrected the aging-related erectile dysfunction for at least 18 days when given by electroporation in a helper-dependent AdV at low viral loads.
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