Commentary: Phosphodiesterase 4 inhibitors as potential adjunct treatment targeting the cytokine storm in COVID-19

Metabolism. 2020 Aug:109:154282. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2020.154282. Epub 2020 Jun 1.


The most severe presentation of COVID-19 is characterized by a hyperinflammatory state attributed to the massive pro-inflammatory cytokine release, called "cytokine storm". Several specific anti-inflammatory/immunosuppressive agents are being evaluated by ongoing clinical trials; however, there is currently insufficient evidence for their efficacy and safety in COVID-19 treatment. Given the role of phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE) 4 and cyclic adenosine monophosphate in the inflammatory response, we hypothesize that selective PDE4 inhibition may attenuate the cytokine storm in COVID-19, through the upstream inhibition of pro-inflammatory molecules, particularly TNF-α, and the regulation of the pro-inflammatory/anti-inflammatory balance. Conversely, other anti-cytokine agents lead to the downstream inhibition of specific targets, such as IL-1, IL-6 or TNF-α, and may not be efficient in blocking the cytokine storm, once it has been triggered. Due to their mechanism of action targeting an early stage of the inflammatory response and ameliorating lung inflammation, we believe that selective PDE4 inhibitors may represent a promising treatment option for the early phase of COVID-19 pneumonia before the cytokine storm and severe multiorgan dysfunction take place. Furthermore, PDE4 inhibitors present several advantages including an excellent safety profile; the oral route of administration; the convenient dosing; and beneficial metabolic properties. Interestingly, obesity and diabetes mellitus type 2 have been reported to be risk factors for the severity of COVID-19. Therefore, randomized clinical trials of PDE4 inhibitors are necessary to explore their potential therapeutic effect as an adjunct to supportive measures and other therapeutic regiments.

Keywords: Apremilast; COVID-19; Coronavirus; Crisaborole; Cyclic adenosine monophosphate; Cytokine storm; Phosphodiesterase 4 inhibitor; Pneumonia; Psoriasis; Roflumilast.

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy*
  • Coronavirus Infections / etiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / immunology
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Cytokine Release Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-17 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Obesity / complications
  • Pandemics
  • Phosphodiesterase 4 Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / etiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / immunology
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Interleukin-17
  • Phosphodiesterase 4 Inhibitors
  • Cyclic AMP