Phosphodiesterases are key enzymes in cellular signalling pathways. They degrade cyclic nucleotides and their inhibition via specific inhibitors offers unique 'receptor-independent' opportunities to modify cellular function. An increasing number of in vitro and animal model studies point to innovative treatment options in neurology and psychiatry. This review critiques a selection of recent studies and developments with a focus on dementia/neuroprotection, depression and schizophrenia. Despite increased interest among the clinical neurosciences, there are still no approved PDE inhibitors for clinical use in neurology or psychiatry. Adverse effects are a major impediment for clinical approval. It is therefore necessary to search for more specific inhibitors at the level of different PDE sub-families and isoforms.