A group of oxytocinergic neurons originating in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus and projecting to extrahypothalamic brain areas (e.g. hippocampus, medulla oblongata and spinal cord) control penile erection. Activation of these neurons by dopamine and dopamine agonists, excitatory amino acids (N-methyl-D-aspartic acid) or oxytocin itself, or by electrical stimulation leads to penile erection, while their inhibition by GABA and GABA agonists or by opioid peptides and opiate-like drugs inhibits this sexual response. The activation of oxytocinergic neurons in the paraventricular nucleus by dopamine, oxytocin and excitatory amino acids is apparently secondary to the activation of nitric oxide (NO) synthase. NO in turn activates, by a mechanism that is as yet unidentified, the release of oxytocin from oxytocinergic neurons in extrahypothalamic brain areas. Several peptide analogues of hexarelin, a growth hormone releasing peptide, also induce penile erection when injected into the paraventricular nucleus and, to a lesser extent, systemically, apparently by acting on a specific receptor to activate oxytocinergic neurons as shown for the above drugs and oxytocin. Paraventricular oxytocinergic neurons and mechanisms similar to those reported above are also involved in the expression of penile erection in physiological contexts, namely when penile erection is induced in the male by the presence of an inaccessible receptive female, which is considered a model for psychogenic impotence in man, as well as during copulation. These findings show that paraventricular oxytocinergic neurons projecting to extra-hypothalamic brain areas and to the spinal cord are a likely target for the treatment of erectile dysfunction of central origin.
Keywords: Central Oxytocinergic, Neurotransmission, Drug Target, Psychogenic, Erectile Dysfunction, N-methyl-D-aspartic acid, hippocampus, dopamine, oxytocinergic, oxytocin
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