The purpose of this investigation was to study the time course, response to insulin and characteristics of erectile dysfunction in streptozotocin (STZ)-diabetic Sprague–Dawley rats, and the function of the NO-generating system in these animals. Copulation-induced and reflex erection were quantified in conscious Sprague–Dawley rats at different times after injection of STZ. The corporal vasodilatation response to nerve stimulation was studied by measuring the rise in corporal pressure in pithed rats following electrical stimulation of sacral spinal nerve roots. The activity of NO synthase was determined in corporal tissue by measuring the generation of [3H]citrulline from [3H]arginine. Copulation-induced erection was inhibited at 1 and 2 months after STZ treatment, but this could be prevented by a short (2-week) pretreatment with insulin. Reflex erection was inhibited at 1, 4, 6 and 9 months after STZ; at 6 months, this inhibition was also reversible by insulin pretreatment. Following pithing, the basal corporal pressure was elevated in diabetic rats. At 4 months after STZ, this increase was normalized by a 2-week, but not by a 1-week, pretreatment with insulin; however, at 9 months after STZ, insulin pretreatment did not normalize corporal pressure. The increase in corporal pressure caused by stimulation of sacral nerve roots in pithed rats was enhanced in diabetic animals. This enhancement was also normalized at 4 months, but not at 9 months, by 2 weeks of insulin treatment. The inhibition of the stimulation-induced increase in corporal pressure by NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (5 mg/kg) was less following 9 months of diabetes, although NO synthase activity was normal in cavernosal tissue following 6–8 months of diabetes. In conclusion, STZ-induced diabetes caused changes in the erectile system that were initially reversible by a short insulin treatment, but which with time (more than 6 months) became irreversible. NO synthase activity in cavernosal tissue was normal, but the response to NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester was inhibited in long-term diabetes (9 months).

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