Sonic hedgehog could save sex after prostate op

The cavernous nerve is often damaged during surgery for prostate cancer leading to erectile dysfunction (ED). Researchers previously found that the protein that goes by the name of sonic hedgehog (SHH) is critical if this nerve is to be regenerated post-operatively. The same team has now investigated the issue from a different perspective: might sonic hedgehog actually protect the nerves after the crush injury they often experience during surgery?

They have found that, “There is a window of opportunity immediately after nerve insult in which manipulation of SHH signaling in the nerve microenvironment can affect long-term regeneration outcome.” This bodes well for better outcomes for the sex lives of post-op prostate cancer patients.

Research Blogging IconAngeloni, N., Bond, C.W., Harrington, D., Stupp, S. & Podlasek, C.A. (2012). Sonic Hedgehog Is Neuroprotective in the Cavernous Nerve with Crush Injury, The Journal of Sexual Medicine, no. DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02930.x

4 thoughts on “Sonic hedgehog could save sex after prostate op”

  1. Very interesting…

    When I worked for New Scientist, John Hoyland published in Feedback several of these “odd” names for genes, highlighting the apparently outlandish imaginations of geneticists…I countered with a piece showing how chemists, specifically NMR spectroscopists, could be just as odd with names likes NOESY, COESY and SLITDRESS for their techniques.

  2. You need to talk to your doctor Ed. This research is cutting edge but it’s nowhere near clinical practice. I gleaned from my reading of the paper that it’s something that might one day help but only if action is taken at the time of the operation. The team says in the paper I link to: “There is a window of opportunity immediately after nerve insult in which manipulation of SHH signaling in the nerve microenvironment can affect long-term regeneration outcome.” I take that to mean that they could do something while the patient is in theatre. Sorry, if that’s not what you wanted to hear.

  3. How wide is this window of opportunity. I had surgery 2 years ago, and supposedly I had extensive nerve removal in order to get clean edges. Is it possible to restore the nerves after this period of time. I have tried the pills to no avail, and the injections work but I am not to fond of it. I have a pump which works well, but the rings expand with a little pressure and I loose the erection. Is there any hope.

  4. Hi David,

    Thanks so much for this post. I appreciate being able to read about my old field and knowing everyone else is able to read about it too! The beauty is in the details and if we don’t know them we miss the beauty.

    Just a note about where Hedgehog gene got its name, since we were chatting about it. Turns out, the woman who named it was born in October. So her picture is on the homepage today. Because finding all these genes that are required for embryonic development earned Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric F. Wieschaus the Nobel Prize in 1980. Theirs is a great story of struggling to find funding and interest for their project! You can read Christiane’s autobiography on She still works at Max Plank Developmental Biology Inst.

    The original observation that gave Hh its name was from the skin on top of the embryo, the cuticle I believe it’s called. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Eric F. Wieschaus named Hedgehog for the fact that the cuticle was curved and full of bristles instead of being long with discrete stripes of bristles. The original picture might not be digital… it was published in 1980.

    This paper has a good picture of a normal embryo and a Hedgehog mutant.
    Figure 1 A is normal Hh embryo and 1B is missing Hh. See clear loss of segment grooves. The bristles are not in this picture.

    But in her Nobel Lecture, figure 2 you can see examples of the cuticle from normal and mutant flies. Just imagine you pulled the skin off a 1 day old fruit fly maggot (its really not even a maggot yet, still an embryo) and looked at the “skin” = cuticle under a light microscope.

    OK, that’s all!



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