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Chronic treatment with the phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors sildenafil and tadalafil display anxiolytic effects in Flinders Sensitive Line rats

Abstract

There are conflicting results from behavioural studies regarding whether the activation or inhibition of the cGMP-nitric oxide (NO) pathway induces anxiolytic-like behaviour. Sildenafil, an inhibitor of cGMP-selective phosphodiesterase-5, increases anxiety acutely, but previous evidence suggests that its chronic administration may be anxiolytic, and could involve a cholinergic interaction. We used the Flinders Sensitive Line (FSL) rat, a genetic model of depression that presents with increased anxiety- and depression-like behaviour, to investigate the action of chronic treatment with the PDE5 inhibitors sildenafil or tadalafil, with/without atropine on social interaction behaviour, a correlate for anxiety. Fluoxetine was used as positive control, with validation performed using Flinders Resistant Line (FRL) rats. In order to relate behavioural changes to brain penetration, we determined the concentration of sildenafil in cortex and hippocampus of rats following the schedule above using LC-MS/MS. FSL rats displayed significantly reduced social interactive behaviour than FRL rats, while sildenafil, tadalafil, and fluoxetine significantly reversed these deficits. Atropine did not exert effects on social interactive behaviour, nor did it modulate the effects of sildenafil or tadalafil. Sildenafil was present in cortex and hippocampus regions in lower nanomolar concentrations after chronic treatment, in agreement with the binding to PDE5 required for pharmacological effects. This study emphasizes the complicated regulation of anxiety by the cGMP-NO system, and provides supporting evidence for an anxiolytic action after the chronic activation of this pathway. As far as we know this is also the first report to formally demonstrate that sildenafil effectively crosses the blood–brain barrier to elicit central effects.

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Acknowledgements

Fluoxetine was provided by Aspen (Port Elizabeth, South Africa), sildenafil was kindly by Pfizer (Kent, United Kingdom) and tadalafil was provided by Eli Lilly (Indianapolis IN, United States of America.). The authors wish to express sincere gratitude to Prof Jan du Preez and Mr Francois Viljoen of the Central Analytical Laboratory, Unit for Drug Research and Development, North-West University, South Africa for tissue preparation and measurement of the sildenafil concentration in rat brain using LC-MS/MS. The project was funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF - grant no. FA2005022800003).

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Correspondence to Christiaan B. Brink.

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Liebenberg, N., Harvey, B.H., Brand, L. et al. Chronic treatment with the phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors sildenafil and tadalafil display anxiolytic effects in Flinders Sensitive Line rats. Metab Brain Dis 27, 337–340 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11011-012-9284-z

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Keywords

  • cGMP
  • Flinders sensitive line
  • Sildenafil
  • Tadalafil
  • Phosphodiesterase 5
  • Social interaction
  • Anxiety
  • Anxiolytic