Autonomic innervation of reproductive organs: Analysis of the neurons whose axons project in the main penile nerve in the pelvic plexus of the rat



An understanding of the composition of the various nerves of the pelvic plexus is essential in the design of studies to explore the autonomic control of pelvic visceral tissues. As a correlate of this interest, the present study was designed to determine the composition of the main penile nerve in the pelvic plexus of the laboratory rat, an animal commonly used for studies of reproductive physiology. Retrograde tracing studies indicate that the main penile nerve contains neurons which project to the penile crura, the corpus spongiosum, and the bulbourethral glands. The main penile nerve is the major source of neurons which innervate the corpus spongiosum and bulbourethral gland and contains about one-third of all parasympathetic neurons which project to the penile crura. Dye placed on the proximal cut end of the main penile nerve indicates that neurons in the parasympathetic region of the spinal cord (L6-S1) and to a lesser extent a sympathetic region of the cord, L1-L2, provide preganglionic innervation to ganglion cells in the main pelvic nerve. Processes of neurons in dorsal root ganglia L6-S1 and of neurons in the abdominopelvic sympathetic chain course in the main penile nerve to unknown destinations. In many respects this presumed postganglionic fiber tract is essentially a region of the pelvic plexus which subserves extrapelvic visceral tissues.