The effect of sildenafil on nitric oxide-mediated vasodilation in healthy men

Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2001 Sep;70(3):270-9. doi: 10.1067/mcp.2001.117995.


Background: Sildenafil, a treatment for erectile dysfunction, is a specific phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE 5) inhibitor that enhances nitric oxide (NO)-mediated vasodilation in the corpus cavernosum by inhibiting cyclic guanosine monophosphate breakdown. Since PDE 5 is widely expressed in the vasculature, we examined the hypothesis that sildenafil could enhance NO-mediated vasodilation in other vascular beds and improve endothelial function.

Methods: NO-mediated responses to acetylcholine (endothelium-dependent) and nitroglycerin (endothelium-independent) were measured in healthy men in the dorsal hand vein (n = 13), after the administration of either sildenafil 50 mg or placebo. Flow-mediated dilation of the brachial artery and forearm postischemic reactive hyperemia were measured before and after sildenafil 50 mg, isosorbide dinitrate 5 mg, and placebo in a double-blind, randomized, crossover study (n = 11).

Results: In the hand vein, sildenafil administration increased sensitivity to local nitroglycerin. The 50% effective dose decreased approximately 4-fold from 13.5 ng/min (range, 6.9-26.6 ng/min) to 2.7 ng/min (range, 1.1-6.4 ng/min) (P =.025). Sildenafil decreased the maximum venoconstriction induced by phenylephrine from 81% +/- 3% to 74% +/- 3% (P =.025). Sildenafil did not significantly affect the maximal venodilatory response to acetylcholine (35% +/- 7% after placebo versus 32% +/- 8% after sildenafil) (P =.7). In the arterial vasculature, flow-mediated dilation before (2.4% +/- 1%) and after (2.8% +/- 1.4%) sildenafil (P =.8) and postischemic reactive hyperemia area under the curve before (1807 +/- 393 mL. min. s/100 mL) and after (1467 +/- 257 mL. min. s/100 mL) sildenafil were not different (P =.8). Resting heart rate, blood pressure, and resting brachial artery diameter were unchanged after sildenafil administration. Isosorbide dinitrate, an endothelium-independent vasodilator, caused a significant increase in resting brachial artery diameter from 0.53 +/- 0.01 cm to 0.56 +/- 0.02 cm (P =.005), without altering flow-mediated dilation.

Conclusions: In healthy men sildenafil increased sensitivity to nitroglycerin, an exogenous NO donor, approximately 4-fold but did not affect endothelium-dependent, NO-mediated responses in either the hand vein or forearm vasculature. Differential vascular responses to sildenafil may localize its enhancement of endogenous NO-mediated vasodilation to vascular beds such as the corpus cavernosum.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / pharmacology
  • Adult
  • Brachial Artery / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Hand / blood supply
  • Humans
  • Hyperemia / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Nitric Oxide / physiology*
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Piperazines / pharmacology*
  • Plethysmography
  • Purines
  • Regional Blood Flow / drug effects
  • Sildenafil Citrate
  • Sulfones
  • Vasodilation / drug effects*
  • Veins / drug effects


  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors
  • Piperazines
  • Purines
  • Sulfones
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Sildenafil Citrate
  • Acetylcholine