6R-L-erythro-5,6,7,8-tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) is an essential cofactor for aromatic L-amino acid hydroxylases, including tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), alkylglycerol monooxygenase, and three types of nitric oxide (NO) synthases (NOS). Sepiapterin reductase (SPR) catalyzes the third step of BH4 biosynthesis. SPR gene-disrupted (Spr−/−) mice exhibit a dystonic posture, low body weight, hyperphenylalaninemia, and unstable hypertension with endothelial dysfunction. In this study, we found that Spr−/− mice suffered from a high incidence of severe priapism. Their erections persisted for months. The biopterin, BH4, and norepinephrine contents, and TH protein levels in the penile tissue of Spr−/− mice without and with priapism were significantly reduced compared to those of Spr+/+ mice. In contrast, their neural NOS (nNOS) protein levels were increased, and the cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) levels were remarkably elevated in the penises of Spr−/− mice with priapism. The symptoms were relieved by repeated administration of BH4. The biopterin, BH4, and norepinephrine contents were increased in penile homogenates from BH4-supplemented Spr−/− mice, and the TH protein levels tended to increase, and their nitrite plus nitrate levels were significantly lower than those of vehicle-treated Spr−/− mice and were approximately the same as vehicle- and BH4-supplemented Spr+/+ mice. Thus, we deduced that the priapism of Spr−/− mice is primarily caused by hypofunction of the sympathetic neurons due to cofactor depletion and the loss of TH protein and, further, dysregulation of the NO/cGMP signaling pathway, which would be caused by disinhibition of nNOS-containing neurons and/or abnormal catabolism of cyclic nucleotides is suggested.
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