The cavernous nerves, which course along the surface of the prostate gland, are responsible for erectile function. During radical prostatectomy, urologists are challenged in preserving these nerves and their function. Cavernous nerves are microscopic and show variable location in different patients; therefore, postoperative sexual potency rates are widely variable following radical prostatectomy. A variety of technologies, including electrical and optical nerve stimulation, dye-based optical fluorescence and microscopy, spectroscopy, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging have all been used to study cavernous nerve anatomy and physiology, and some of these methods are also potential intraoperative methods for identifying and preserving cavernous nerves. However, all of these technologies have inherent limitations, including slow or inconsistent nerve responses, poor image resolution, shallow image depth, slow image acquisition times and/or safety concerns. New and emerging technologies, as well as multimodal approaches combining existing methods, hold promise for improved postoperative sexual outcomes and patient quality of life following radical prostatectomy.
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