Maintaining regular erections could be crucial for preserving erectile function, according to a recent study conducted on mice by researchers at Karolinska Institutet. The findings, published in Science, highlight the significant role of fibroblasts – connective tissue cells – in facilitating erections.
Fibroblasts are the most abundant cells in both mouse and human penises, yet they have largely been overlooked in previous research, explains Eduardo Guimaraes, a researcher at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at Karolinska Institutet and the first author of the study.
Employing an advanced technique called optogenetics, the researchers found that fibroblasts play a vital role in regulating blood flow in the penis, which is essential for achieving an erection. Functionally, fibroblasts absorb the neurotransmitter noradrenaline, leading to the dilation of blood vessels in the penis. The number of fibroblasts directly correlates with the efficacy of this process.
Interestingly, the study also showcased the impact of erection frequency on the number of fibroblasts in the penis. Greater frequency of erections resulted in an increase in fibroblasts, while decreased frequency led to a reduction in their numbers.
Christian Göritz, the senior researcher at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at Karolinska Institutet who led the study, draws an analogy from physical exercise to explain the results. He states, “If you exert yourself a lot, your body adapts. If you run regularly, it will eventually become easier to breathe while running.”
Göritz emphasizes that the study’s findings in mice have significant implications for humans, as the fundamental mechanisms of erection are similar across mammalian species. However, one noteworthy difference is that most mammals, unlike humans, have a bone in their penis. Consequently, effective blood flow regulation is likely to be even more critical for human reproductive health.
The study’s observations align with the common decline in erectile function observed with age, as older mice exhibited fewer fibroblasts in their penises, resulting in diminished blood flow. Likewise, age-related erectile dysfunction in humans may be partially attributed to a reduction in fibroblasts. Consequently, the researchers hypothesize that training the ability to achieve erections regularly could potentially counteract impotence, similar to how physical strength or fitness can be improved through exercise.
While this possibility remains speculative, Göritz hopes that the newfound understanding of fibroblast function in erection could pave the way for innovative treatments for erectile dysfunction. Between 5% and 20% of men worldwide experience erectile dysfunction, with its prevalence increasing with age. The condition significantly impacts the quality of life and physical and psychosocial well-being, both for the affected individuals and their families.
Several common risk factors, such as inactivity, obesity, hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol levels, and metabolic syndrome, are associated with both erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. By unraveling the role of fibroblasts in erectile function, researchers can potentially open new avenues for intervention and treatment, improving the lives of numerous individuals suffering from this condition.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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