Phosphodiesterases hydrolyse intracellular cyclic nucleotides, cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) and cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) into inactive 5' monophosphates, and exist as 11 families. They are found in a variety of inflammatory and structural cells. Inhibitors of PDEs allow the elevation of cAMP and cGMP which lead to a variety of cellular effects including airway smooth muscle relaxation and inhibition of cellular inflammation or of immune responses. PDE4 inhibitors specifically prevent the hydrolysis of cAMP, and PDE4 isozymes are present in inflammatory cells. Selective PDE4 inhibitors have broad spectrum anti-inflammatory effects such as inhibition of cell trafficking, cytokine and chemokine release from inflammatory cells, such as neutrophils, eosinophils, macrophages and T cells. The second generation PDE4 inhibitors, cilomilast and roflumilast, have reached clinical trial stage and have some demonstrable beneficial effects in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The effectiveness of these PDE4 inhibitors may be limited by their clinical potency using doses that have minimal effects on nausea and vomiting. Topical administration of PDE4 inhibitors may provide a wider effective to side-effect profile. Development of inhibitors of other PDE classes, combined with PDE4 inhibition, may be another way forward. PDE5 is an inactivator of cGMP and may have beneficial effects on hypoxic pulmonary hypertension and vascular remodelling. PDE3 and PDE7 are other cAMP specific inactivators of cAMP. PDE7 is involved in T cell activation and a dual PDE4-PDE7 inhibitor may be more effective in asthma and COPD. A dual PDE3-PDE4 compound may provide more bronchodilator and bronchoprotective effect in addition to the beneficial PDE4 effects.