Scientists report they have uncovered the first evidence that erectile dysfunction may have genetic underpinnings.
In the study, the researchers analyzed data from hundreds of thousands of men. The investigators found gene variations in a specific spot in the human genome near the SIM1 gene that are significantly associated with an increased risk of impotence.
Common among older men
"Identifying this SIM1 locus as a risk factor for erectile dysfunction is a big deal because it provides the long sought-after proof that there is a genetic component to the disease," said study author Eric Jorgenson. He's a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Northern California's division of research.
"Identifying the first genetic risk factor for erectile dysfunction is an exciting discovery because it opens the door for investigations into new, genetic-based therapies," he added in a Kaiser news release.
Erectile dysfunction is a common condition among older men and is linked to many causes, such as neurological, hormonal and vascular factors. There are treatments that target these factors, but many men don't respond to them.
Partners suffer silently
Genetics are believed to play a role in about one-third of erectile dysfunction cases, but this is the first time that researchers have connected a specific genomic location with the disorder.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to study co-author Dr Hunter Wessells, "This study points to a new research direction for erectile dysfunction that could help us identify other key genetic variants that trigger the disease and lead to investigations to better understand the precise mechanisms by which they operate." Wessells is chair of urology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
"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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