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PLOS ONE  2009 

Stress Affects a Gastrin-Releasing Peptide System in the Spinal Cord That Mediates Sexual Function: Implications for Psychogenic Erectile Dysfunction

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004276

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Abstract:

Background Many men suffering from stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), report sexual dysfunction, which is traditionally treated via psychological counseling. Recently, we identified a gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) system in the lumbar spinal cord that is a primary mediator for male reproductive functions. Methodology/Principal Findings To ask whether an acute severe stress could alter the male specific GRP system, we used a single-prolonged stress (SPS), a putative rat model for PTSD in the present study. Exposure of SPS to male rats decreases both the local content and axonal distribution of GRP in the lower lumbar spinal cord and results in an attenuation of penile reflexes in vivo. Remarkably, pharmacological stimulation of GRP receptors restores penile reflexes in SPS-exposed males, and induces spontaneous ejaculation in a dose-dependent manner. Furthermore, although the level of plasma testosterone is normal 7 days after SPS exposure, we found a significant decrease in the expression of androgen receptor protein in this spinal center. Conclusions/Significance We conclude that the spinal GRP system appears to be a stress-vulnerable center for male reproductive functions, which may provide new insight into a clinical target for the treatment of erectile dysfunction triggered by stress and psychiatric disorders.

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