While sildenafil is more widely known for helping genital blood vessels expand to maintain an erection and, more recently, as a treatment for pulmonary hypertension, it has been thought to have little direct effect on the human heart.
In the heart, sildenafil blunts the strengthened heart beat caused by chemically induced stress, thereby lessening the excess amount of blood and force used to pump it to the body, according to study senior author and cardiologist David Kass, M.D., a professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart Institute.
"Sildenafil effectively puts a 'brake' on chemical stimulation of the heart," says Kass.
The researchers' findings, which appear in the journal Circulation online Oct. 24, are believed to be the first confirmation in humans that sildenafil has a direct effect on the heart. Previous research by Kass and his team showed that sildenafil had such effects in mice, blocking the short-term effects of hormonal stress in the heart. Related studies by the group also showed that sildenafil prevents and reverses the long-term effects in the heart from chronic high blood pressure.
Moreover, Kass adds, the latest Hopkins results confirm that sildenafil helps control heart function only when the heart is under duress, but has little impact under normal conditions.
Separate research from Kass and his team published earlier this year in the journal Nature Medicine showed that, in mice, sildenafil could reverse the negative effects on heart muscle weakened by heart failure and enlargement, a condition called hypertrophy. "But we had no firm evidence as to whether or how this therapy might work in the human heart. Our latest resear
Contact: David March
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions