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Does Erectile Tissue Angioarchitecture Modify with Aging? An Immunohistological and Morphometric Approach


Carla Costa, PhD, Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto, Al. Prof. Hernani Monteiro Porto, Porto, Portugal 4200-319. Tel: 351-225513654; Fax: 351-225513655; E-mail:


Introduction.  Erectile dysfunction is a common problem in aged men; however, which vascular cavernosal alterations occur with age progression remain unclarified.

Aim.  Using cavernosal tissue from rats of various ages, we aimed to thoroughly assess erectile vascular-associated morphologic, immunohistological, and morphometric alterations during aging.

Methods.  Male Wistar rats were divided according to age in groups of 2, 6, 12, 18, 24 months old (N = 5). Cavernosal tissue of all groups was collected and processed for morphologic evaluation, immunodetection of α-smooth muscle actin and von Willebrand factor and morphometric quantification of vascular and smooth muscle cell (SMC) areas.

Main Outcome Measures.  The morphometric assessment of age-related alterations in cavernosal vascular and SMCs using the ImageJ image-processing program.

Results.  Morphologic and immunohistological evaluation showed a similar structure of erectile tissue among all age groups, divided in two cavernosal bodies containing numerous sinusoidal vascular spaces surrounded by SMCs. Additionally, we observed a reduction of SMC content and an increase in the caliber of vascular spaces, with aging. This was confirmed by the morphometric quantification of the vascular and SMC areas (mean area ×103 µm2 ± ×103 standard error). Two-month-old animals had a mean vascular area of 4.21 ± 0.51, approximately 3.5-fold less than the 6-month-old group. The differences increased when comparing the youngest groups with the 12-, 18-, and 24-month-old animals, with mean measurements of 18.99 ± 1.91, 25.23 ± 2.76, and 26.34 ± 2.97. Conversely, SMC areas progressively decreased between 2- and 6-month-old animals, from 6.75 ± 0.90 to 6.38 ± 1.24. The elderly 12-, 18-, and 24-month-old groups presented an approximated 1.5-fold reduction on SMCs area, showed by the respective measurements of 4.11 ± 0.50, 4.01 ± 0.35, and 4.02 ± 0.44.

Conclusions.  We demonstrated that cavernosal angioarchitecture was modified with aging. The decrease in SMCs and the considerable enlargement of vascular lumens may limit the basic function of penile vascular tree in the elderly. Costa C, and Vendeira P. Does erectile tissue angioarchitecture modify with aging? An immunohistological and morphometric approach. J Sex Med 2008;5:833–840.

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