World J Mens Health.  2021 Jul;39(3):466-469. 10.5534/wjmh.210055.

COVID-19 Endothelial Dysfunction Can Cause Erectile Dysfunction: Histopathological, Immunohistochemical, and Ultrastructural Study of the Human Penis

Affiliations
  • 1Department of Urology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL, USA
  • 2Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL, USA
  • 3Department of Pathology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL, USA
  • 4Transmission Electron Microscopy Core, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL, USA
  • 5Department of Medicine, Cardiology Division, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL, USA
  • 6Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL, USA

Abstract

Purpose
A pilot study to describe histopathological features of penile tissue of patients who recovered from symptomatic COVID-19 infection and subsequently developed severe erectile dysfunction (ED).
Materials and Methods
Penile tissue was collected from patients undergoing surgery for penile prosthesis for severe ED. Specimens were obtained from two men with a history of COVID-19 infection and two men with no history of infection.  Specimens were imaged with TEM and H&E staining. RT-PCR was performed from corpus cavernosum biopsies. The tissues collected were analyzed for endothelial Nitric Oxide Synthase (eNOS, a marker of endothelial function) and COVID-19 spike-protein expression. Endothelial progenitor cell (EPC) function was assessed from blood samples collected from COVID-19 (+) and COVID-19 (-) men.
Results
TEM showed extracellular viral particles ~100 nm in diameter with peplomers (spikes) near penile vascular endothelial cells of the COVID-19 (+) patients and absence of viral particles in controls. PCR showed presence of viral RNA in COVID-19 (+) specimens. eNOS expression in the corpus cavernosum of COVID-19 (+) men was decreased compared to COVID-19 (-) men. Mean EPC levels from the COVID-19 (+) patients were substantially lower compared to mean EPCs from men with severe ED and no history of COVID-19.
Conclusions
Our study is the first to demonstrate the presence of the COVID-19 virus in the penis long after the initial infection in humans. Our results also suggest that widespread endothelial cell dysfunction from COVID-19 infection can contribute to ED. Future studies will evaluate novel molecular mechanisms of how COVID-19 infection leads to ED.

Keyword

COVID-19; Endothelium; Erectile dysfunction; Histopathology; Immunohistochemistry; SARS-CoV-2
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