Introduction: The pelvic striated muscles play an important role in mediating erections and ejaculation, and together these muscles compose a tightly coordinated neuromuscular system that is androgen sensitive and sexually dimorphic. Aim: To identify spinal and brains neurons involved in the control of the levator ani (LA) and bulbospongiosus (BS) in the male adult and preadolescent rat. Methods: Rats were anesthetized, and the transsynaptic retrograde tracer pseudorabies virus (PRV) was injected into the LA muscle of adults or the ventral BS muscle in 30-day-old rats. After 3-5 days rats were sacrificed, and PRV-labeled neurons in the spinal cords and brains were identified using immunohistochemistry. The presence of gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) in the lumbar spinal neurons was examined. Main Outcomes Measures: The location and number of PRV-labeled neurons in the spinal cord and brain and GRP colocalization in the lumbar spinal cord. Results: PRV-labeled spinal interneurons were found distributed throughout T11-S1 of the spinal cord, subsequent to dorsal medial motoneuron infection. The majority of spinal interneurons were found in the lumbosacral spinal cord in the region of the dorsal gray commissure and parasympathetic preganglionic neurons. Preadolescent rats had more PRV-labeled spinal interneurons at L5-S1 where the motoneurons were located but relatively less spread rostrally in the spinal cord compared with adults. Lumbar spinothalmic neurons in medial gray of L3-L4 co-localized PRV and GRP. In the brain consistent labeling was seen in areas known to be involved in male sexual behavior including the ventrolateral medulla, hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus, and medial preoptic area. Conclusion: Common spinal and brain pathways project to the LA and BS muscles in the rat suggesting that these muscles act together to coordinate male sexual reflexes. Differences may exist in the amount of synaptic connections/neuronal pathways in adolescents compared with adults.
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