Urinary incontinence affects 40% of elderly men, is common in diabetic patients and in men treated for prostate cancer, with a prevalence of up to 44%. Seventy-two percent of prostatectomy patients develop stress urinary incontinence (SUI) in the first week after surgery and individuals who do not recover within 6 months generally do no regain function without intervention. Incontinence has a profound impact on patient quality of life and a critical unmet need exists to develop novel and less invasive SUI treatments. During prostatectomy, the cavernous nerve (CN), which provides innervation to the penis, undergoes crush, tension, and resection injury, resulting in downstream penile remodeling and erectile dysfunction in up to 85% of patients. There are other nerves that form part of the major pelvic ganglion (MPG), including the hypogastric (HYG, sympathetic) and pelvic (PN, parasympathetic) nerves, which provide innervation to the bladder and urethra. We examine if HYG and PNs are injured during prostatectomy contributing to SUI, and if Sonic hedgehog (SHH) regulatory mechanisms are active in the PN and HYG nerves. CN, PN, HYG and ancillary (ANC) of uninjured, sham and CN crush/MPG tension injured (prostatectomy model) adult Sprague Dawley rats (n = 37) were examined for apoptosis, sonic hedgehog (SHH) pathway, and intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic mechanisms. Fluorogold tracing from the urethra/bladder was performed. PN and HYG response to SHH protein was examined in organ culture. TUNEL, immunohistochemical analysis for caspase-3 cleaved, -8, -9, SHH, Patched and Smoothened (SHH receptors), and neurite formation, were examined. Florogold positive neurons in the MPG were reduced with CN crush. Apoptosis increased in glial cells of the PN and HYG after CN crush. Caspase 9 was abundant in glial cells (intrinsic), while caspase-8 was not observed. SHH and its receptors were abundant in neurons and glia of the PN and HYG. SHH treatment increased neurite formation. PN and HYG injury occur concomitant with CN injury during prostatectomy, likely contributing to SUI. PN and HYG response to SHH treatment indicates an avenue for intervention to promote regeneration and prevent SUI.
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