Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) remains an intractably fatal disorder, despite the recent advent of anti-fibrotic medication. Successful treatment of IPF, like many chronic diseases, may benefit from the concurrent use of multiple agents that exhibit synergistic benefit. In this light, phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5-Is), have been studied in IPF primarily for their established pulmonary vascular effects. However, recent data suggest certain PDE5-Is, particularly vardenafil, may also reduce transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF-β1) activation and extracellular matrix (ECM) accumulation, making them a potential target for therapy for IPF. We evaluated fibroblast TGFβ1-driven extracellular matrix (ECM) generation and signaling as well as epithelial mesenchymal transformation (EMT) with pretreatment using the PDE5-I vardenafil. In addition, combinations of vardenafil and nintedanib were evaluated for synergistic suppression of EMC using a fibronectin enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Finally, the effects of vardenafil on fibrosis were investigated in a bleomycin mouse model. Our findings demonstrate that vardenafil suppresses ECM generation alone and also exhibits significant synergistic suppression of ECM in combination with nintedanib in vitro. Interestingly, vardenafil was shown to improve fibrosis markers and increase survival in bleomycin-treated mice. Vardenafil may represent a potential treatment for IPF alone or in combination with nintedanib. However, additional studies will be required.
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