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Differential vasoactive effects of sildenafil and tadalafil on cerebral arteries –relevant to migraine?


Phosphodiesterase 5 (PDE5) is associated with migraine pathophysiology, stroke recovery and vasospasm treatment [1, 2]. We have shown previously that vasodilatation was not a prerequisite for migraine induction; sildenafil elicited migraine-like attacks in migraine patients without measurable changes in intra- or extra-cerebral artery diameter. Further, sildenafil was found to not affect neurovascular response or excitability [3]. However, dural artery responses were not accounted for in the human studies and minor vascular changes of functional importance may not have been detected.

The potential vascular interplay of PDE5 inhibitors sildenafil, tadalafil and UK-114,542 were studied by intra- versus extra-luminal administration in rat middle cerebral arteries (MCA) in vitro and on middle meningeal arteries (MMA) in vivo.


To examine a possible vascular site of action, if any, of each of sildenafil and tadalafil by investigating 1) the effects of PDE5 inhibitors in vitro dilatation of the middle cerebral artery (MCA) with controlled luminal or extra-luminal application of the drugs and 2) the in vivo effects of intravenous PDE5 inhibitors on the middle meningeal artery (MMA) dilatation in a closed cranial window model in rats.


Rat MCA diameter was investigated using pressurised arteriography, applying UK-114,542, sildenafil, and tadalafil intra- or extra-luminally. Effects on MMA were studied in the in vivo closed cranial window model.


At high concentrations, abluminal sildenafil and UK-114,542, but not tadalafil, induced dilatation. Luminal application elicited a contraction of 4 % (sildenafil, p = 0.03) and 10 % (tadalafil, p = 0.02). In vivo, sildenafil, but not tadalafil, dose-dependently dilated MMA concomitant to blood pressure reduction (1-3 mg/kg);1 mg/kg sildenafil inducing 60 ± 14 % (p = 0.04) and vehicle (DMSO) 13 ± 6 % dilatation.


PDE5 inhibitors applied luminally had contractile effect on MCA. Abluminal sildenafil induced MCA dilatation above therapeutic levels. In vivo, sildenafil dilated MMA. Tadalafil had no dilatory effects. PDE5 inhibitors show differential vascular activity in arteries, although clinically the potential for headache induction appears similar. Such findings support clinical studies showing no vasodilatory effects of sildenafil on cerebral arteries in healthy subjects.


  1. Kruuse C, Thomsen LL, Birk S, Olesen J: Migraine can be induced by sildenafil without changes in middle cerebral artery diameter. Brain. 2003, 126: 241-247. 10.1093/brain/awg009.

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The study was supported by Lundbeck Foundation Centre for Neurovascular signalling (LUCENS), Cool Sorption Foundation; CK was supported by grant from the Danish Medical Research Council.

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Correspondence to Christina Kruuse.

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This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Kruuse, C., Gupta, S., Nilsson, E. et al. Differential vasoactive effects of sildenafil and tadalafil on cerebral arteries –relevant to migraine?. BMC Pharmacol 11 (Suppl 1), P42 (2011).

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  • Migraine
  • Middle Cerebral Artery
  • PDE5 Inhibitor
  • Tadalafil
  • Middle Meningeal Artery