Background and purpose: We tested the hypothesis that sildenafil, a phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitor, promotes functional recovery and neurogenesis after stroke.
Methods: Male Wistar rats were subjected to embolic middle cerebral artery occlusion. Sildenafil (Viagra) was administered orally for 7 consecutive days starting 2 or 24 hours after stroke onset at doses of 2 or 5 mg/kg per day. Ischemic rats administered the same volume of tap water were used as a control group. Functional outcome tests (foot-fault, adhesive removal) were performed. Rats were killed 28 days after stroke for analysis of infarct volume and newly generated cells within the subventricular zone and the dentate gyrus. Brain cGMP levels, expression of PDE5, and localized cerebral blood flow were measured in additional rats.
Results: Treatment with sildenafil significantly (P<0.05) enhanced neurological recovery in all tests performed. There was no significant difference of infarct volume among the experimental groups. Treatment with sildenafil significantly (P<0.05) increased numbers of bromodeoxyuridine-immunoreactive cells in the subventricular zone and the dentate gyrus and numbers of immature neurons, as indicated by betaIII-tubulin (TuJ1) immunoreactivity in the ipsilateral subventricular zone and striatum. The cortical levels of cGMP significantly increased after administration of sildenafil, and PDE5 mRNA was present in both nonischemic and ischemic brain.
Conclusions: Sildenafil increases brain levels of cGMP, evokes neurogenesis, and reduces neurological deficits when given to rats 2 or 24 hours after stroke. These data suggest that this drug that is presently in the clinic for sexual dysfunction may have a role in promoting recovery from stroke.