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Intracavernosal vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) injection and adeno-associated virus-mediated VEGF gene therapy prevent and reverse venogenic erectile dysfunction in rats.


Penile veno-occlusive dysfunction (venogenic erectile dysfunction) is a common cause of erectile dysfunction (ED). We investigated whether vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) can be used to prevent and reverse venogenic ED in a rat model. Pharmacological cavernosometry was developed and validated using adult male rats with either arteriogenic or venogenic ED. Castrated animals were treated with intracavernous VEGF as either a recombinant protein (C+VEGF) or adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated VEGF gene therapy (C+VEGF gene) in an attempt to prevent the development of venogenic ED. Other animal groups received testosterone replacement (C+testosterone) or intracavernous AAV-LacZ gene (C+LacZ). Animals with documented venogenic ED were treated with intracavernous VEGF in an attempt to reverse their ED. Functional analysis (pharmacological infusion cavernosometry) was performed following treatment. Penile specimens were harvested for immunohistochemistry and electron microscopic evaluation. Castrated rats showed a decrease in papaverine-induced intracavernous pressure and an increase in maintenance and drop rates during pharmacological cavernosometry. These changes were prevented by systemic testosterone and intracavernous VEGF or AAV-VEGF therapy. Moreover, intracavernous VEGF was able to reverse the venogenic ED produced by castration. The quantity of penile smooth muscle detected by alpha actin staining decreased after castration but not in the C+T, C+VEGF, or C+VEGF gene groups. Transmission electron microscopy revealed atrophy of penile smooth muscle cells and nerves in the castrated rats. In VEGF-treated rats, regeneration of smooth muscle and nerves as well as endothelial cell hypertrophy and hyperplasia were the prominent features. In our animal model, systemic testosterone replacement or intracavernous VEGF (protein and VEGF gene) prevented the veno-occlusive dysfunction in castrated animals. In rats with established venous leakage, VEGF treatment reversed the cavernosometric findings of leakage. Intracavernous injection of either VEGF protein or VEGF gene may be a preferred therapy to preserve erectile function in patients in whom testosterone therapy is contraindicated.


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