Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Rakesh Kukreja


Background: Ethanol is a cardiotoxic substance that damages the heart by increasing apoptosis, free radical formation and calcium overloading. Consequently, there is an increase in cell death leaving fewer functioning myocytes leading to heart failure. Sildenafil is a phosphodiesterase type-5 (PDE-5) inhibitor approved for treatment of erectile dysfunction. Studies from our lab have demonstrated that PDE-5 inhibition reduces myocardial infarct size and attenuates post-ischemic cardiac dysfunction in both ischemia-reperfusion and permanent coronary artery ligation models. Therefore, in the present study, we hypothesized that treatment with sildenafil will prevent cardiotoxicity associated with acute alcohol exposure by reducing myocyte apoptosis and preserving cardiac function through PKG signaling. Methods and Results: Adult cardiomyocytes were isolated and treated with 100 mM of 100% ethanol ± 10 µM sildenafil. At 24 hours necrosis was assessed via trypan blue exclusion assay, JC-1 staining assessed mitochondrial membrane potential and ROS production was measured by DCF fluorescence. At 48 hours apoptosis was assessed by TUNEL assay. Ethanol increased the rate of necrotic and apoptotic cell death. This was attenuated by co-treatment with sildenafil. Ethanol disrupted the mitochondrial membrane potential and increased ROS production. Sildenafil preserved mitochondrial membrane potential and attenuated ROS production. Treatment of myocytes with 5-HD, a mitochondrial K+atp channel antagonist, blocked the protective effect of sildenafil. Knockdown of PKG using adenoviral siRNA blocked the protective effect of sildenafil, while overexpression of PKG1α conferred protection against ethanol cytotoxicity. To further demonstrate the effect of sildenafil ethanol-cardiotoxicity in vivo, mice were treated with ethanol (3 g/kg/day) with or without sildenafil (0.7 mg/kg) by i.p. injection for three consecutive days. After treatment, the animals were sacrificed and the hearts removed and perfused on a Langendorff system to measure function. After functional analysis, apoptosis and PKG activity was measured in the heart samples. Ethanol decreased the rate-force product and increased myocardial apoptosis. Sildenafil preserved cardiac function and significantly reduced apoptosis. Sildenafil treated myocardium also showed an increase in PKG activity. Conclusion: Sildenafil attenuates the toxic effect of ethanol by reducing apoptosis and maintaining the mitochondrial integrity in cardiomyocytes. Sildenafil also preserved cardiac function in ethanol-treated mice. Protein kinase G-dependent signaling plays a critical role in attenuating cardiotoxic effect of ethanol.


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VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2013

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Physiology Commons