Pelvic surgery, even without direct cavernous nerve injury, carries a high risk of post-operative erectile dysfunction. The present studies were aimed at identifying molecular mechanisms by which pelvic surgery results in erectile dysfunction. As a model of pelvic surgery, male Sprague–Dawley rats underwent pelvic laparotomy, avoiding direct cavernous nerve injury. A second group of animals, serving as a model of direct cavernous nerve injury, underwent bilateral transection of the cavernous nerve. Cavernosometry demonstrated, that even in the absence of direct nerve injury, the pelvic surgery model exhibited significant erectile dysfunction 3 days post-operatively. Gene expression profiling also demonstrated that even in this animal model of nerve-sparing pelvic surgery, the profile of differentially expressed genes in cavernosal tissue was indicative of cavernous nerve injury. In addition, although 6 hr after surgery there were significant changes in circulating cytokine/chemokine levels, an inflammatory response in the major pelvic ganglion, cavernous nerve and cavernosal tissue was only observed 3 days post-surgery. Our results validate a rat model of pelvic surgery exhibiting erectile dysfunction and suggest systemic release of cytokines/chemokines following surgical trauma might mediate a pathological inflammatory response in tissues distal to the site of surgical trauma, indirectly resulting in cavernous nerve injury and erectile dysfunction.
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