Potential risk of developing herpes simplex encephalitis in patients treated with sildenafil following primary exposure to genital herpes

J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2017 Jul-Sep;31(3):679-682.


Herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE) is associated with significant mortality and morbidity. As a consequence of HSE, up to 75% of infected individuals die or experience irreversible neurological damage. While the pathogenesis of the disease is unknown, it is traditionally hypothesized that the viral infection occurs by neuronal transmission directly from peripheral sites. Non-neuronal modes of infection have generally been overlooked as the brain is protected by the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). The BBB poses an effective barrier to pathogens as well as to drugs such as chemotherapies. In the pursuit to deliver chemotherapeutic agents to the brain, several studies demonstrated that phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors, such as sildenafil, may increase the permeability of the BBB enabling successful delivery of chemotherapeutic agents to the brain. In this communication, we report a case of HSE infection in a 62-year-old man, which we suspect was facilitated by the use of sildenafil during a primary genital herpes simple virus (HSV) infection. Due to large number of patients treated with PDE5 inhibitors for erectile dysfunction and the high incidence of genital HSV infection in the general population, a larger study should examine the potential risk of developing HSE in patients treated with PDE5 inhibitors.

MeSH terms

  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiopathology
  • Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex / chemically induced*
  • Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex / physiopathology
  • Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex / virology
  • Herpes Genitalis / drug therapy*
  • Herpes Genitalis / physiopathology
  • Herpes Genitalis / virology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Permeability
  • Sildenafil Citrate / administration & dosage
  • Sildenafil Citrate / adverse effects*


  • Sildenafil Citrate