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Mechanisms of action of PDE5 inhibition in erectile dysfunction


A spinal reflex and the L-arginine–nitric oxide–guanylyl cyclase–cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) pathway mediate smooth muscle relaxation that results in penile erection. Nerves and endothelial cells directly release nitric oxide in the penis, where it stimulates guanylyl cyclase to produce cGMP and lowers intracellular calcium levels. This triggers relaxation of arterial and trabecular smooth muscle, leading to arterial dilatation, venous constriction, and erection. Phosphodiesterase 5 (PDE5) is the predominant phosphodiesterase in the corpus cavernosum. The catalytic site of PDE5 normally degrades cGMP, and PDE5 inhibitors such as sildenafil potentiate endogenous increases in cGMP by inhibiting its breakdown at the catalytic site. Phosphorylation of PDE5 increases its enzymatic activity as well as the affinity of its allosteric (noncatalytic/GAF domains) sites for cGMP. Binding of cGMP to the allosteric site further stimulates enzymatic activity. Thus phosphorylation of PDE5 and binding of cGMP to the noncatalytic sites mediate negative feedback regulation of the cGMP pathway.

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Correspondence to J D Corbin.

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Corbin, J. Mechanisms of action of PDE5 inhibition in erectile dysfunction. Int J Impot Res 16 (Suppl 1), S4–S7 (2004).

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  • phosphodiesterase inhibitors
  • vasodilator agents
  • cyclic GMP
  • impotence
  • penile erection

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