Some proposals regarding the organization of the central nervous system control of penile erection

K. E. McKenna*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Recent research on the central nervous control of penile erection is discussed. A framework for this control is based upon principles put forward by Frank Beach regarding the neuroendocrine regulation of male copulatory behavior. The current discussion is focused primarily on a subset, penile erection. The spinal cord contains all the necessary components for the production of penile erection. This requires a multisegmental coordination among penile vasodilator and vasoconstrictor autonomic neurons, pudendal motoneurons responsible for penile rigidity and autonomic neurons which control extra-penile blood flow. Genital sensory stimulation can activate this spinal network. The spinal cord is also under excitatory and inhibitory control from supraspinal sites. Penile erection can be driven by supraspinal input alone and supraspinal control can inhibit the erectile effects of genital stimulation.An important aspect of the CNS control of penile erection is that there are extensive interconnections between most of the brain sites identified to date. Most of the pathways are characterized by reciprocal connections. A large number of the CNS sites also receive genital sensory information. Thus, descending control may itself be modulated by ascending sensory pathways which relay information from the genitalia. This raises the possibility that penile erection may involve a positive feedback system. Receptors for gonadal hormones have been identified throughout the neuraxis. However, strong evidence for the control of male sexual function by gonadal hormones has been identified only for forebrain sites. The functional role of brainstem and spinal gonadal hormone receptors has not yet been clarified. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)535-540
Number of pages6
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2000


  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Impotence
  • Penis
  • Sexual responses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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