Scientists find first genetic risk factor for erectile dysfunction

James Marshall
October 11, 2018

Scientists say they've located the first well-documented genetic abnormality that increases a man's risk of impotence, a discovery that could lead to new treatments, according to a study published on Monday in a United States journal.

Men with erectile dysfunction (ED) have trouble getting or maintaining an erection to have satisfactory sexual intercourse, according to the U.S. Department of Health.

Men who have a copy of this variant have a 26 percent increased risk of facing erectile dysfunction compared to the average population, said the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team studied over a million points in the human genome in a genomic-wide association study, where markers are scanned to identify genetic variations of a disease or trait.

Researchers from health insurance and medical care company Kaiser Permanente studied the genes of almost 37,000 Americans who volunteered their medical records for the study.

"We know that there are other risk factors for erectile dysfunction, including smoking, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease", he continued.

Men who are a flop in bed can now blame their genes, new research suggests.

It turned out that nearly a quarter of the risk of erectile dysfunction increases variation in the region of SIM1. The study found that this location was indeed a risk factor for erectile dysfunction, whether the disorder was defined through clinical diagnoses, prescriptions history, or study participant self-report.

Their study picked out a single area, or locus, in our DNA that interacts with a gene known as SIM1, and which was correlated with erectile dysfunction in men in the study. The SIM1 gene is known to be part of a signaling pathway that plays a central role in body weight regulation and sexual function. The erectile dysfunction locus is located near, but not in, the SIM1 gene.

Think of a gene like a light bulb, Jorgenson said: The promoter is like a light switch, and an enhancer acts like the fuse box. "It is possible that we can use this genetic region as a key to identifying neurons that affect sexual function specifically", said Jorgenson. This new knowledge may help researchers develop better erectile dysfunction treatments that target genetics.

"Hopefully, this will translate into better treatments and, importantly, prevention approaches for the men and their partners who often suffer silently with this condition", he added.

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