Small molecule allosteric modulators of phosphodiesterase 4

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2011:(204):167-92. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-17969-3_7.


Phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4) inhibitors have shown benefit in human clinical trials but dosing is limited by tolerability, particularly because of emesis. Novel cocrystal structures of PDE4 catalytic units with their regulatory domains together with bound inhibitors have revealed three different PDE4 conformers that can be exploited in the design of novel therapeutic agents. The first is an open conformer, which has been employed in the traditional approach to the design of competitive PDE4 inhibitors. The second is an asymmetric dimer in which a UCR2 regulatory helix from one monomer is placed in a closed conformation over the opposite active site in the PDE4 dimer (trans-capping). Only one active site can be closed by an inhibitor at a time with the consequence that compounds exploiting this conformer only partially inhibit PDE4 enzymatic activity while retaining potency in cellular and in vivo models. By placing an intrinsic ceiling on the magnitude of PDE4 inhibition, such compounds may better maintain spatial and temporal patterning of signaling in cAMP microdomains with consequent improved tolerability. The third is a symmetric PDE4 conformer in which helices from the C-terminal portion of the catalytic unit cap both active sites (cis-capping). We propose that dual-gating of PDE4 activity may be further fine tuned by accessory proteins that recognize open or closed conformers of PDE4 regulatory helices.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Cyclic Nucleotide Phosphodiesterases, Type 4 / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phosphodiesterase 4 Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary


  • Phosphodiesterase 4 Inhibitors
  • Cyclic Nucleotide Phosphodiesterases, Type 4