The cGMP-binding cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase (PDE5) degrades cGMP and regulates the intracellular level of cGMP in many tissues, including the smooth muscle of the corpus cavernosum of the penis. Sildenafil (Viagra), a specific PDE5 inhibitor, promotes penile erection by blocking the activity of PDE5, which causes cGMP to accumulate in the corpus cavernosum. In the present study, sildenafil, like other PDE5 inhibitors, stimulates cGMP binding to the allosteric sites of PDE5 by interacting at the catalytic site of this enzyme, but the drug does not compete with cGMP for binding at the allosteric sites. Both sildenafil and zaprinast are competitive inhibitors of PDE5, and double-inhibition analysis shows that these two inhibitors added together interact with the catalytic site of PDE5 in a mutually exclusive manner. After site-directed mutagenesis of each of 23 conserved amino acid residues in the catalytic domain of PDE5, the pattern of changes in the IC50 values for sildenafil or UK-122764 is similar to that found for zaprinast. However, among the three inhibitors, sildenafil exhibits the most similar pattern of changes in the IC50 to that found for the affinity of cGMP, implying similar interactions with the catalytic domain. This may explain in part the stronger inhibitory potency of sildenafil for wild-type PDE5 compared with the other inhibitors [sildenafil (Ki = 1 nM) > UK-122764 (Ki = 5 nM) > zaprinast (Ki = 130 nM)]. The affinity of each of these inhibitors for PDE5 is much higher than that of cGMP itself (Km = 2000 nM). It is concluded that residues such as Tyr602, His607, His643, and Asp754 may form important interactions for sildenafil in PDE5, but because these amino acids are conserved in all mammalian PDEs, the selectivity and potency of sildenafil is likely to be provided by a nonconserved residue or residues in the PDE5 catalytic domain.