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Abstract

As a basis for understanding the mechanism of erection in an animal model frequently used in research in reproductive biology, the angioarchitecture of the penis of the rat has been described using scanning electron microscopy. Study of the penile vasculature of the rat indicates that the corpora cavernosa penis and the corpus spongiosum are independent erectile tissues, each with its own arterial and venous vessels. The large vascular spaces and abundant smooth muscle of the penile crura are compatible with its role in regulating blood flow to more distal penile tissues. Helicine arteries of the crura, but not the parent deep penile artery or arteries elsewhere, have muscular cushions in their walls. The venous drainage of the penile crura is via subtunical veins which are thought to be compressed during erection to elevate pressure within the penis. Large, paired cavernous veins drain the shaft of the penis. A unique method for inhibiting blood flow from the penis is indicated by the division of the cavernous veins into smaller channels prior to joining the subtunical venous plexus. Erectile tissue in the bifid origins of the corpus spongiosum has abundant cavernous muscle, while in the remainder of the corpus spongiosum little smooth muscle lines the cavernous spaces. The cavernous spaces on either side of the urethra coalesce to form vessels, each of which communicates with cavernous spaces in the glans. In addition, a bypass of the glans is effected by communication of these vessels directly with the deep dorsal vein. The apparent absence of muscular pads in vessels of the spongiosum, the relative paucity of cavernous smooth muscle, and the ample venous drainage provided by the deep dorsal vein may account for the lack of a venous occlusive mechanism similar to that of the corpora cavernosa penis.