WebMD Health News
Matthew Hoffman, MD
Louise Chang, MD
March 2, 2009 -- The stench of rotten eggs seems an unlikely aphrodisiac.
But new research suggests that a foul-smelling gas could someday become the
target of new drugs for erectile dysfunction.
Hydrogen sulfide is present in raw natural gas and in the odor of rotting
eggs. Our bodies also produce tiny quantities of hydrogen sulfide, but the gas
was long thought to be only a toxic by-product of metabolism.
Research early this decade revealed that many animals actually use hydrogen
sulfide to help expand blood vessels. Chemicals that create these expansions in
blood flow are called vasodilators.
In previous experiments in mice and monkeys, injecting hydrogen sulfide
opened blood vessels and improved erections. But the same chemical pathways
weren't yet proven to function in people.
For the new study, researchers at the University of Naples in Italy studied
penile tissue samples obtained from humans.
They found the same enzymes that produce hydrogen sulfide in animals were
present and functional in human tissue. The chemical reactions that produce
hydrogen sulfide were generally the same, too. The scientists concluded that
hydrogen sulfide does likely contribute to erections in men, just as in animal
Viagra and other drugs for
erectile dysfunction work by boosting the effects of nitric oxide, another
vasodilator. Viagra slows down a specific enzyme, prolonging nitric oxide's
actions. Blood vessels in the penis expand, and erections result from the
increased blood flow.
The researchers say greater understanding of hydrogen sulfide's separate
chemical pathway could eventually lead to new treatments for erectile
dysfunction. The study appears in the online early edition of the journal
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
SOURCE:D'Emmanuele di Villa Bianca R. Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, online early edition, 2009.
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