Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4), one of eleven PDE enzyme families, specifically catalyzes hydrolysis of cyclic AMP (cAMP); it has four subtypes (PDE4A-D) with at least 25 splice variants. PDE4 plays a critical role in the control of intracellular cAMP concentrations. PDE4 inhibitors produce antidepressant actions in both animals and humans via enhancement of cAMP signaling in the brain. However, their clinical utility has been hampered by side effects, in particular nausea and emesis. While there is still a long way to go before PDE4 inhibitors with high therapeutic indices are available for treatment of depressive disorders, important advances have been made in the development of PDE4 inhibitors as antidepressants. First, limited, but significant studies point to PDE4D as the major PDE4 subtype responsible for antidepressant- like effects of PDE4 inhibitors, although the role of PDE4A cannot be excluded. Second, PDE4D may contribute to emesis, the major side effect of PDE4 inhibitors. For this reason, identification of roles of PDE4D splice variants in mediating antidepressant activity is particularly important. Recent studies using small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) have demonstrated the feasibility to identify cellular functions of individual PDE4 variants. Third, mixed inhibitors of PDE4 and PDE7 or PDE4 and serotonin reuptake have been developed and may be potential antidepressants with minimized side effects. Finally, relatively selective inhibitors of one or two PDE4 subtypes have been synthesized using structure- and scaffold- based design. This review also discusses the relationship between PDE4 and antidepressant activity based on structures, brain distributions, and pharmacological properties of PDE4 and its isoforms.
Keywords: Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4), antidepressant, cAMP signaling, splice variant, brain distribution, RNA interference (RNAi)