Regular erections may be important for maintaining erectile function, according to a new study in mice published in Science by researchers from the Karolinska Institute.
“We found that a higher frequency of erections produces more fibroblasts that enable erection and vice versa, that a lower frequency results in a lower number of these cells,” says lead researcher Christian Göritz.
In a new study in mice, researchers from Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University in Sweden show that connective tissue cells called fibroblasts have a previously unknown and very important function in mediating erection.
“Fibroblasts are the most abundant cells in the penis of both mice and humans, but they have been ignored in research,” says Eduardo Guimaraes, researcher at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology at the Karolinska Institute and first author of the article. “We can now show, using a very precise method called optogenetics, that they have a very important role in regulating blood flow in the penis, which is what makes the penis erect.”
The study shows that fibroblasts mediate erection by absorbing the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which causes widening of penile blood vessels. The effectiveness of this process depends on the number of fibroblasts.
The body adapts
The researchers were also able to show that the number of fibroblasts in the penis is affected by the frequency of erections. The more frequent, the more fibroblasts and vice versa; a lower frequency of erections reduced the number of fibroblasts.
“Actually, it’s not that strange. If you try hard, your body adapts. If you run regularly, over time you will find it easier to breathe while running,” says Christian Göritz, senior researcher at the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology at the Karolinska Institutet, who led the study.
Regarding the conclusions that can be drawn from studies in mice for humans, Christian Göritz affirms that in this case there are significant similarities.
“The basic mechanisms of erection are very similar in all mammals in terms of anatomy, cellular structure, etc.,” he says. “However, there is one difference between humans and most mammals: they have a bone in their penis. “This means that effective regulation of blood flow is probably even more important for human reproduction.”
Fewer fibroblasts with age.
The older mice had fewer fibroblasts in the penis, which was also reflected in less blood flow. The ability to achieve an erection decreases with age in humans as well, which could be due in part to fewer fibroblasts in the penis. Therefore, researchers believe that it would be possible to train the ability to get an erection to counteract impotence in the same way as training strength or fitness in the gym.
“This is not something we have shown in our study, so it is a bit speculative, but a reasonable interpretation is that it is easier if you have regular erections,” says Christian Göritz.
He hopes that new insights into the role of fibroblasts in erection may also lead to new treatments for erectile dysfunction.
The research was primarily funded by the Bertil Hållsten Foundation and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. No conflicts of interest have been reported.
Facts: Erectile dysfunction, or impotence, affects between 5 and 20 percent of all men, and the incidence increases with age. Erectile dysfunction usually negatively affects the quality of life and the physical and psychosocial health of both the patient and his family. Common risk factors, in addition to age, are similar to those for cardiovascular diseases: inactivity, obesity, hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol levels, and metabolic syndrome. Source: Viss.nu, Stockholm region knowledge support.
Publication: “Corpora cavernosa fibroblasts mediate penile erection”, Eduardo Linck Guimaraes, David Oliveira Dias, Wing Fung Hau, Anais Julien, Daniel Holl, Maria Garcia-Collado, Soniya Savant, Evelina Vågesjö, Mia Phillipson, Lars Jakobsson, Christian Göritz. Scienceonline February 8, 2024, doi: 10.1126/science.ade8064.
The material in this press release comes from the original research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. They want more? Sign up to receive our daily email.