Erectile dysfunction is a disorder of men’s health consisting in the difficulty both to have an erection of the penis and to maintain it. It should be noted that this is not a disease, but rather a symptom that can reveal the presence of other diseases: cardiovascular alterations, endocrine-metabolic problems, diabetes or neurological diseases. A group of researchers from some American universities and Kaiser Permanente – a non-profit California body that deals with health issues – have identified a genetic variant linked to erectile dysfunction: a variant that, according to the study, would be on chromosome 6, closely related to SIM1, a gene that has to do with the hormonal circuit of leptin-melanocortin, linked both to the regulation of the body mass index and to sexual activity.
To reach this discovery, the researchers – coordinated by Stephen Van Den Eeden – relied on an English database that includes data from over 36 thousand men and used a genetic analysis method called ‘genome wide association’, a procedure that has the goal of associating certain genome variants with the presence of certain diseases or dysfunctions. In this way, scientists discovered that this genetic variant is associated with the SIM1 gene, but they also found that it has nothing to do with weight regulation, but acts with a different mechanism, probably related to the neurons of sexual desire. The discovery – published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – is important because it could allow the development of new, more targeted drugs that could replace medicines such as sildenafil (the most common trade name of which is Viagra), if not in all cases, in those that have a genetic component.
But it does not end here: the genetic mechanisms of erection could also play a role with regard to sexual function, including desire and excitement, in women. According to the authors of the study, in fact, these analyzes on mechanisms underlying erectile dysfunction open the way to the study of new therapies, aimed at more specific targets, for the treatment of these disorders: treatments that could offer a potential to improve sexual function not only in men, but also in women.