Whoever thought that spider venom could could be the answer for erectile dysfunction, however, emergency room visits in Brazil with victims of spider bites displaying priapism, or unrelenting and painful erections, got doctors thinking.
Some research has led to the isolation of an alternative way to help men attain and sustain an erection.
Viagra, Levitra and other ED drugs on the market work by inhibiting an enzyme called PDE5. To get an erection, a man’s body must release nitric oxide, which relaxes the smooth muscle around the arteries of the penis, allowing for his blood vessels to dilate.
The nitric oxide is a first step in a series of chemical reactions that allow this muscle relaxation to take place. One step in the series is cGMP, a signaling molecule that acts to keep the muscles relaxed. PDE5 degrades cGMP. That’s a good thing for ensuring that erections don’t last forever, but too much PDE5 can mean an erection doesn’t happen at all. By blocking the enzyme, PDE5 inhibitors solve the problem.
The spider toxin works differently. Instead of affecting PDE5, the compound seems to trigger nitric oxide release, acting directly to relax the smooth muscles. Because about 30 percent of patients don’t respond to PDE5 inhibitors, the toxin could provide an alternative to ED treatments currently on the market, Nunes said.