OBJECTIVES To investigate whether the excitatory amino acid receptor agonists can activate the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN) and induce penile erections in the rat. METHODS Male adult Sprague-Dawley rats were used. A 26-gauge needle was inserted into the corpus cavernosum to monitor the intracavernous pressure (ICP) simultaneously with the systemic arterial pressure and heart rate. The study was divided into seven parts: stereotaxic delivery of N-methyl-d-aspartic acid (NMDA) (50 ng/500 nL) into the PVN; administration of the NMDA noncompetitive antagonist MK-801 (100 ng/250 nL) and NMDA (50 ng/250 nL) into the PVN; administration of the NMDA competitive antagonist (+/-)-3-(2-carboxypiperazin-4-yl)-propyl-1-phosphonic acid (CPP; 100 ng/250 nL) and NMDA (50 ng/250 nL) into the PVN; microinjection of (+/-)-alpha-(amino)-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid (AMPA; 100 ng/500 nL) into the PVN; microinjection of trans-(+/-)-1-amino-1,3-cyclopentanedicarboxylic acid (ACPD; 100 ng/500 nL) into the PVN; saline 500 nL into the PVN; and intracavernous administration of NMDA (50 ng/100 microL). RESULTS On administration of NMDA into the PVN, a significant increase occurred in the ICP from a resting 8.3 +/- 1.8 mm Hg to a peak at 59.0 +/- 8.4 mm Hg. No change occurred in the resting ICP after administration of either the mixture of MK-801 and NMDA or CPP and NMDA into the PVN. Microinjection of AMPA, ACPD, or saline into the PVN and intracavernous administration of NMDA were all ineffective to induce an increase in ICP. CONCLUSIONS The results of this study suggest that ionotropic excitatory amino acid (NMDA) may have an effect on inducing penile erection through activation of the PVN in the rat.