PDE5 inhibitors such as sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra) are clinically indicated for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Sildenafil and tadalafil are also indicated for the treatment of pulmonary hypertension.
Sildenafil, the prototypical PDE5 inhibitor, was originally discovered during the search of a novel treatment for angina. Studies in 2002 explored its potential for increasing neurogenesis after stroke.
PDE5 inhibitors are contraindicated in those taking nitrate medication. They are also contraindicated in men for whom sexual intercourse is inadvisable due to cardiovascular risk factors.
The occurrence of adverse drug reactions (ADRs) with PDE5 inhibitors appears to be dose related. Headache is a very common ADR, occurring in >10% of patients. Other common ADRs include: dizziness, flushing, dyspepsia, nasal congestion or rhinitis.
While these drugs preferentially inhibit PDE5, none of them are truly selective, especially at high doses. Sildenafil also inhibits PDE6 and PDE9, with inhibition of PDE6 in the retina thought to be responsible for the vision changes which can be a side effect of the drug. Similarly tadalafil inhibits both PDE5 and PDE11. However the selectivity of the existing drugs is high enough that inhibition of additional PDE subtypes is not generally a problem in clinical use, and while newer "super-selective" PDE5 inhibitors have been developed for research purposes, it is unlikely any of these will be marketed given the saturation of the erectile dysfunction market at present.
Inhibitors derived from plants are also known. For example, icariin and its synthetic derivatives have been found to be PDE5 inhibitors.
PDE5 inhibitors inhibit the degradation of cGMP by PDE5, increasing bloodflow to the penis during sexual stimulation. This mode of action means that PDE5 inhibitors are ineffective without sexual stimulation.
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