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Newly mapped enzyme could yield new treatments for female sexual dysfunction

PHILADELPHIA -- New research from the University of Pennsylvania and other institutions indicates that the enzyme arginase II, which can short-circuit a biochemical pathway leading to sexual arousal in men, is also present in the female genitalia and represents a promising target for new drugs to treat sexual dysfunction in women.

Scientists from Penn, Temple University and Boston University have mapped out arginase II's three-dimensional structure, easing the job of creating drugs to disable it. Their results will appear in the Aug. 5 issue of the journal Biochemistry, and were published this week on the journal's Web site.

"Existing treatments have shown little success in treating female sexual dysfunction," said lead author David W. Christianson, professor of chemistry at Penn. "Given the relative failure of remedies such as Viagra, the identification of a new target for the possible treatment of female sexual dysfunction represents an important advance."

In 2001 Christianson and his colleagues reported that arginase II is present in the human penis. In studies with female rabbits, described in the current paper, the researchers have found the same enzyme in the genitalia of female mammals.

Christianson's group also found that administration of a powerful arginase inhibitor enhanced smooth muscle relaxation and blood flow in the female rabbits' genitalia, fostering sexual arousal.

"Ever since the enzyme nitric oxide synthase was identified in the female genitalia six years ago, we've been very interested in learning whether arginase might play a role in female sexual dysfunction," Christianson said. "More importantly, we've wondered whether arginase inhibitors could enhance smooth muscle relaxation in the female genitalia, leading to sexual arousal. It now appears that this may be the case."

Healthy sexual function in both genders relies on a biochemical cascade as carefully orchestrated as any courtship r
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Contact: Steve Bradt
bradt@pobox.upenn.edu
215-573-6604
University of Pennsylvania
26-Jun-2003


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