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Effects and mechanisms of action of sildenafil citrate in human chorionic arteries.OBJECTIVES: Sildenafil citrate, a specific phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor, is increasingly used for pulmonary hypertension in pregnancy. Sildenafil is also emerging as a potential candidate for the treatment of intra-uterine growth retardation and for premature labor. Its effects in the feto-placental circulation are not known. Our objectives were to determine whether phosphodiesterase-5 is present in the human feto-placental circulation, and to characterize the effects and mechanisms of action of sildenafil citrate in this circulation. STUDY DESIGN: Ex vivo human chorionic plate arterial rings were used in all experiments. The presence of phosphodiesterase-5 in the feto-placental circulation was determined by western blotting and immunohistochemical staining. In a subsequent series of pharmacologic studies, the effects of sildenafil citrate in pre-constricted chorionic plate arterial rings were determined. Additional studies examined the role of cGMP and nitric oxide in mediating the effects of sildenafil. RESULTS: Phosphodiesterase-5 mRNA and protein was demonstrated in human chorionic plate arteries. Immunohistochemistry demonstrated phosphodiesterase-5 within the arterial muscle layer. Sildenafil citrate produced dose dependent vasodilatation at concentrations at and greater than 10 nM. Both the direct cGMP inhibitor methylene blue and the cGMP-dependent protein kinase inhibitor Rp-8-Br-PET-cGMPS significantly attenuated the vasodilation produced by sildenafil citrate. Inhibition of NO production with L-NAME did not attenuate the vasodilator effects of sildenafil. In contrast, sildenafil citrate significantly enhanced the vasodilation produced by the NO donor sodium nitroprusside. CONCLUSION: Phosphodiesterase-5 is present in the feto-placental circulation. Sildenafil citrate vasodilates the feto-placental circulation via a cGMP dependent mechanism involving increased responsiveness to NO.