Introduction. Detumescent tone and subsequent relaxation by nitric oxide (NO) are essential processes that determine the erectile state of the penis. Despite this, the mechanisms involved are incompletely understood. It is often assumed that the tone is associated with a sustained high cytosolic Ca2+ level in the corpus cavernosum smooth muscle cells, however, an alternative possibility is that oscillatory Ca2+ signals regulate tone, and erection occurs as a result of inhibition of Ca2+ oscillations by NO.
Aims. The aim of this study is to determine if smooth muscle cells displayed spontaneous Ca2+ oscillations and, if so, whether these were regulated by NO.
Methods. Male New Zealand white rabbits were euthanized and smooth muscle cells were isolated by enzymatic dispersal for confocal imaging of intracellular Ca2+ (using fluo-4AM) and patch clamp recording of spontaneous membrane currents. Thin tissue slices were also loaded with fluo-4AM for live imaging of Ca2+.
Main Outcome Measure. Cytosolic Ca2+ was measured in isolated smooth muscle cells and tissue slices.
Results. Isolated rabbit corpus cavernosum smooth muscle cells developed spontaneous Ca2+ waves that spread at a mean velocity of 65 µm/s. Dual voltage clamp/confocal recordings revealed that each of the Ca2+ waves was associated with an inward current typical of the Ca2+-activated Cl- currents developed by these cells. The waves depended on an intact sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ store, as they were blocked by cyclopiazonic acid (Calbiochem, San Diego, CA, USA) and agents that interfere with ryanodine receptors and IP3-mediated Ca2+ release. The waves were also inhibited by an NO donor (diethylamine NO; Tocris Bioscience, Bristol, Avon, UK), 3-(5-hydroxymethyl-2-furyl)-1-benzyl indazole (YC-1) (Alexis Biochemicals, Bingham, Notts, UK), 8-bromo-cyclic guanosine mono-phosphate (Tocris), and sildenafil (Viagra, Pfizer, Sandwich, Kent, UK). Regular Ca2+ oscillations were also observed in whole tissue slices where they were clearly seen to precede contraction. This activity was also markedly inhibited by sildenafil, suggesting that it was under NO regulation.
Conclusions. These results provide a new basis for understanding detumescent tone in the corpus cavernosum and its inhibition by NO. Sergeant GP, Craven M, Hollywood MA, McHale NG, and Thornbury KD. Spontaneous Ca2+ waves in rabbit corpus cavernosum: Modulation by nitric oxide and cGMP. J Sex Med **;**:**–**.