The different forms or subtypes of phosphodiesterase were initially isolated from rat brains in the early 1970s  and were soon afterward shown to be selectively inhibited in the brain and in other tissues by a variety of drugs. The potential for selective phosphodiesterase inhibitors as therapeutic agents was predicted as early as 1977 by Weiss and Hait. This prediction meanwhile has proved to be true in a variety of fields.
Rolipram, used as investigative tool in pharmacological research
Ibudilast, a neuroprotective and bronchodilator drug used mainly in the treatment of asthma and stroke. It inhibits PDE4 to the greatest extent, but also shows significant inhibition of other PDE subtypes, and so acts as a selective PDE4 inhibitor or a non-selective phosphodiesterase inhibitor, depending on the dose.
PDE4 is the major cAMP-metabolizing enzyme found in inflammatory and immune cells. PDE4 inhibitors have proven potential as anti-inflammatory drugs, especially in inflammatory pulmonary diseases such as asthma, COPD, and rhinitis. They suppress the release of cytokines and other inflammatory signals, and inhibit the production of reactive oxygen species. PDE4 inhibitors may have antidepressive effects and have also recently been proposed for use as antipsychotics.
On October 26, 2009, The University of Pennsylvania reported that researchers at their institution had discovered a link between elevated levels of PDE4 (and therefore decreased levels of cAMP) in sleep deprived mice. Treatment with a PDE4 inhibitor raised the deficient cAMP levels and restored some functionality to Hippocampus-based memory functions.
Recent studies have shown Quinazoline type PDE7 inhibitor to be potent anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agents.
PDE10 selective inhibitors
Papaverine, an opiumalkaloid, has been reported to act as a PDE10 inhibitor.
PDE10A is almost exclusively expressed in the striatum and subsequent increase in cAMP and cGMP after PDE10A inhibition (e.g. by papaverine) is "a novel therapeutic avenue in the discovery of antipsychotics".
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^Effects of phosphodiesterase 10 inhibition on striatal cyclic AMP and peripheral physiology in rats; An Torremans, Abdellah Ahnaou, An Van Hemelrijck, Roel Straetemans, Helena Geys, Greet Vanhoof, Theo F. Meert, and Wilhelmus H. Drinkenburg; "Archived copy"(PDF). Archived(PDF) from the original on 2011-10-07. Retrieved 2011-08-27. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)