Erectile dysfunction in the aging male is caused, in part, by inadequate relaxation of the corpora cavernosal smooth musculature. Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), a peptide neurotrasmitter localized in the corpora cavernosa, is down-regulated in the aging rat penis. We examined the hypothesis that this reduction in CGRP may contribute to decreased cavernosal smooth muscle relaxation. Therefore, we sought to determine whether adenoviral-mediated gene transfer of prepro-CGRP (AdRSVCGRP) could enhance erectile responses in aged rats. We found a significant decrease in CGRP concentrations and in cAMP and cGMP levels in aged rat cavernosal tissue compared to younger rats. Aged rats also had significantly lower erectile function as determined by cavernosal nerve stimulation compared to younger rats. Five days after transfection with AdRSVCGRP, these aged rats had an approximately threefold increase in cavernosal CGRP levels compared to animals transfected with adenoviruses encoding nuclear-targeted β-galactosidase (AdRSVβgal). The AdRSVCGRP-transfected animals also demonstrated an increase in CGRP mRNA and immunohistochemical localization of CGRP in the smooth muscle of the corpora cavernosa. In addition, cAMP levels in the corpora cavernosa were significantly increased, whereas cGMP levels remained unchanged. Adenoviral transduction efficiency of β-galactosidase reporter gene was measured by chemiluminescence and was observed in cavernosal tissue 5 days after transfection with AdRSVβgal. More importantly, 5 days after administration of AdRSVCGRP, a significant increase was observed in the erectile response to cavernosal nerve stimulation in the aged rat, similar to the response observed in younger rats. These data suggest that in vivo adenoviral gene transfer of CGRP can physiologically improve erectile function in the aged rat.
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