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Diabetes mellitus is characterized by changes in endothelial cells that alter monocyte recruitment, increase classic (M1-type) tissue macrophage infiltration and lead to self-sustained inflammation. Our and other groups recently showed that chronic inhibition of phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5i) affects circulating cytokine levels in patients with diabetes; whether PDE5i also affects circulating monocytes and tissue inflammatory cell infiltration remains to be established. Using murine streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetes and in human vitro cell-cell adhesion models we show that chronic hyperglycemia induces changes in myeloid and endothelial cells that alter monocyte recruitment and lead to self-sustained inflammation. Continuous PDE5i with sildenafil (SILD) expanded tissue anti-inflammatory TIE2-expressing monocytes (TEMs), which are known to limit inflammation and promote tissue repair. Specifically, SILD: 1) normalizes the frequency of circulating pro-inflammatory monocytes triggered by hyperglycemia (53.7 ± 7.9% of CD11b+Gr-1+ cells in STZ vs. 30.4 ± 8.3% in STZ+SILD and 27.1 ± 1.6% in CTRL, P<0.01); 2) prevents STZ-induced tissue inflammatory infiltration (4-fold increase in F4/80+ macrophages in diabetic vs. control mice) by increasing renal and heart anti-inflammatory TEMs (30.9 ± 3.6% in STZ+SILD vs. 6.9 ± 2.7% in STZ, P <0.01, and 11.6 ± 2.9% in CTRL mice); 3) reduces vascular inflammatory proteins (iNOS, COX2, VCAM-1) promoting tissue protection; 4) lowers monocyte adhesion to human endothelial cells in vitro through the TIE2 receptor. All these changes occurred independently from changes of glycemic status. In summary, we demonstrate that circulating renal and cardiac TEMs are defective in chronic hyperglycemia and that SILD normalizes their levels by facilitating the shift from classic (M1-like) to alternative (M2-like)/TEM macrophage polarization. Restoration of tissue TEMs with PDE5i could represent an additional pharmacological tool to prevent end-organ diabetic complications.

Original publication




Journal article


PloS one

Publication Date





Department of Experimental Medicine, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy.


Monocytes, Macrophages, Endothelial Cells, Animals, Mice, Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental, Hyperglycemia, Streptozocin, Receptor, TIE-2, Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule-1, Protective Agents, Coculture Techniques, Cell Count, Cell Adhesion, Cell Communication, Signal Transduction, Gene Expression Regulation, Male, Cyclooxygenase 2, Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II, Cyclic Nucleotide Phosphodiesterases, Type 5, Phosphodiesterase 5 Inhibitors, Sildenafil Citrate