Several pathways have been described to explain how information travels from the hypothalamus to the sacral autonomic centers. One pathway travels from the dorsomedial hypothalamus through the dorsal and central gray matter, descends to the locus ceruleus, and projects ventrally in the mesencephalic reticular formation. Input from the brain is conveyed through the dorsal spinal columns to the thoracolumbar and sacral autonomic nuclei.


Positron emission tomorgraphy (PET), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have led to a greater understanding to which center are activated during arousal. These imaging studies measure increases in cerebral blood flow or changes in cerebral activity on a real-time basis. Studies are performed when male subject are aroused by visual cues (usually sexual explicit photos or videos) and compared to images obtained during exposure to sexually neutral cues differences can be measured. Several studies have identified that the inferior frontal lobes, inferior temporal lobes and insular gyrus, and occipital lobes are involved with processing arousal cues, although each are likely to process different stimuli (20-23).
Several pre-treatment factors have been described that may indicate success with PDE5i therapy. The presence of an upper motor neuron lesion up to T12 suggests a successful response, as well as requirement for a lower dosage of medication (62,68-71). Additionally, the presence of residual erections after injury or an incomplete SCI (ASI-A vs. ASIB-D) also improve the chance of PDE5i treatment success (59,67,68,71).
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Oral therapy (pills) is the least effective and the most likely to be associated with liver problems, even though this is a small risk. This is related to the first-pass effect of all medications ingested via the digestive system. Once absorbed from the intesting, all food materials must pass through the hepatic (liver) system and be metabolized. As such, the actual delivery to the systemic blood system is low due to the liver metabolism of the testosterone. For this reason, the oral doses are quite high in order to get serum levels higher.
In a prospective study from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial database, Thompson et al reported that men presenting with ED had a significantly higher chance of developing a cardiovascular event over a 7-year follow-up period. [55] The hazard ratio was 1.45, which is in the range of risk associated with current smoking or a family history of MI.
There have been some studies to suggest that a placebo effect that improves ED may work for some men. One study found that men taking an oral placebo pill showed as much improvement in ED symptoms as men who took actual medication to improve ED. Conversely, men who were given therapeutic suggestions to improve ED did not see signs of symptom improvement.
The main surgical treatment of ED involves insertion of a penile implant (also called penile prostheses). Because penile vascular surgery is not recommended for aging males who have failed oral PDE5 inhibitors, ICI or IU therapies, implants are the next step for these patients. Although placement of a penile implant is a surgery which carries risks, they have the highest rates of success and satisfaction among ED treatment options.
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