Phosphodiesterases are enzymes that catalyze the degradation of the cyclic nucleotides, cyclic AMP and cyclic GMP, to the corresponding 5' nucleotide monophosphates. Ten different phosphodiesterase families have been described to date. These enzymes exist as homodimers and there is structural similarity between the different families. However, they differ in several respects like selectivity for cyclic nucleotides, sensitivity for inhibitors and activators, physiological roles and tissue distribution. Interest in these enzymes has increased tremendously, both within the medical community and in the general public as a consequence of sildenafil (Viagra), the medication recently introduced for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Sildenafil mediates its effects by inhibiting phosphodiesterase 5. Some biochemical and molecular biological aspects of this enzyme are presented here. To achieve satisfactory erection, normal penile innervation is required. Nitrogen monoxide, the transmitter substance in these nerves, activates guanylyl cyclase, thereby increasing cyclic GMP production. The increased levels of cyclic GMP cause relaxation of smooth muscles in penile vessels and this leads to an erection. Erection is dependent on elevated levels of cyclic GMP and sildenafil mediates its effects by inhibiting the degradation of cyclic GMP. Other functions that are mediated by the phosphodiesterases explain visual disturbances, flushing and decreased blood pressure that are some of the side effects seen with sildenafil treatment. Furthermore, the potentially fatal consequence of combining sildenafil and nitrovasodilators is discussed.