Penile erection is a nitric oxide (NO)-mediated process that has been shown to be androgen dependent in rats. Castration reduces the activity of the penile enzyme involved in NO synthesis, nitric oxide synthase (NOS). To determine whether adrenal androgens and/or corticosteroids contribute to this control, the following groups of Fischer 344 adult male rats (n = 5-7) were studied: 1) intact, 2) castrated, 3) adrenalectomized alone, 4) castrated/adrenalectomized, 5) castrated/adrenalectomized with aldosterone (1.25 mg/kg, s.c.) and hydrocortisone (12 mg/kg, s.c.), 6) castrated/adrenalectomized with dihydrotestosterone (1.2-cm SILASTIC-brand tubing pellet; Dow Corning, Midland, MI), 7) castrated/adrenalectomized with dehydroepiandrosterone (2-cm tubing), 8) castrated/adrenalectomized with aldosterone (1.25 mg/kg, s.c.), and 9) castrated/adrenalectomized with hydrocortisone (12 mg/kg, s.c.). After 1 week, EFS was applied, and the maximal intracavernosal pressure (MIP) and mean arterial pressure (MAP) were recorded. The MIP/MAP ratio in the adrenalectomized group (0.37) was reduced to values found in the castrated group (0.40). The values in both groups were significantly less than those in intact controls (0.75). The most significant reduction in MIP/MAP was seen in the adrenalectomized/castrated group (0.16). Erectile response in animals submitted to adrenalectomy and castration was restored close to intact values with the administration of hydrocortisone and aldosterone (0.63). Similar results were obtained by the administration of either of the substances alone (0.56 and 0.67, respectively). Penile NOS activity assayed by the L-arginine/citrulline conversion was decreased by 55% in the castrated group compared with that in the intact group, but was not further reduced in the adrenalectomized/castrated or adrenalectomized groups. Penile neuronal NOS protein content, estimated by Western blot, was decreased only in the adrenalectomized/castrated animals (35%), and endothelial NOS content was not affected. These data suggest that the rat adrenal gland contributes to the maintenance of the erectile mechanism and may affect neuronal NOS content in the penis in the rat model. The possibility that hypotension may play a role in the erectile dysfunction observed in adrenalectomized rats cannot be discarded.