The mechanism of action of Sildenafil citrate involves the release of nitric oxide (NO) in the corpus cavernosum of the penis. NO binds to the receptors of the enzyme guanylate cyclase which results in increased levels of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), leading to smooth muscle relaxation (vasodilation) of the intimal cushions of the helicine arteries, resulting in increased inflow of blood and an erection. Robert F. Furchgott won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1998 for his discovery and analysis of endothelium-derived relaxing factor, a key part of the NO mechanism of action.
Sildenafil is a potent and selective inhibitor of cGMP specific phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) which is responsible for degradation of cGMP in the corpus cavernosum. The molecular structure of sildenafil is similar to that of cGMP and acts as a competitive binding agent of PDE5 in the corpus cavernosum, resulting in more cGMP and better erections. Without sexual stimulation, and therefore lack of activation of the NO/cGMP system, sildenafil should not cause an erection. Other drugs that operate by the same mechanism include tadalafil (Cialis) and vardenafil (Levitra).
Sildenafil is metabolised by liver enzymes and excreted by both the liver and kidneys. If taken with a high-fat meal, absorption is reduced; the time taken to reach the maximum plasma concentration increases by around one hour, and the maximum concentration itself is decreased by nearly one-third
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