Nitric oxide (NO), the neuromodulator/neurotransmitter formed from l
-arginine by neuronal, endothelial and inducible NO synthases, is involved in numerous functions across the body, from the control of arterial blood pressure to penile erection, and at central level from energy homeostasis regulation to memory, learning and sexual behavior. The aim of this work is to review earlier studies showing that NO plays a role in erectile function and sexual behavior in the hypothalamus and its paraventricular nucleus and the medial preoptic area, and integrate these findings with those of recent studies on this matter. This revisitation shows that NO influences erectile function and sexual behavior in males and females by acting not only in the paraventricular nucleus and medial preoptic area but also in extrahypothalamic brain areas, often with different mechanisms. Most importantly, since these areas are strictly interconnected with the paraventricular nucleus and medial preoptic area, send to and receive neural projections from the spinal cord, in which sexual communication between brain and genital apparatus takes place, this review reveals that central NO participates in concert with neurotransmitters/neuropeptides to a neural circuit controlling both the consummatory (penile erection, copulation, lordosis) and appetitive components (sexual motivation, arousal, reward) of sexual behavior.
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