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Am J Cardiol. 1999 Nov 4;84(9A):20R-28R.

Amiodarone: ionic and cellular mechanisms of action of the most promising class III agent.

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  • 1Department of Circulation, Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Nagoya University, Japan.


Amiodarone is the most promising drug in the treatment of life-threatening ventricular tachyarrhythmias in patients with significant structural heart disease. The pharmacologic profile of amiodarone is complex and much remains to be clarified about its short- and long-term actions on multiple molecular targets. This article reviews electrophysiologic effects of amiodarone based on previous reports and our own experiments in single cells and multicellular tissue preparations of mammalian hearts. As acute effects, amiodarone inhibits both inward and outward currents. The inhibition of inward sodium and calcium currents (I(Na), I(Ca)) is enhanced in a use- and voltage-dependent manner, resulting in suppression of excitability and conductivity of cardiac tissues especially when stimulated at higher frequencies and in those with less-negative membrane potential. Both voltage- and ligand-gated potassium channel currents (I(K), I(K,Na), I(K,ACh)) are also inhibited at therapeutic levels of drug concentrations. Acutely-administered amiodarone has no consistent effect on the action potential duration (APD). The major and consistent long-term effect of the drug is a moderate APD prolongation with minimal frequency dependence. This prolongation is most likely due to a decrease in the current density of I(K) and I(to). Chronic amiodarone was shown to cause a down-regulation of Kv1.5 messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) in rat hearts, suggesting a drug-induced modulation of potassium-channel gene expression. Tissue accumulation of amiodarone and its active metabolite (desethylamiodarone) may modulate the chronic effects, causing variable suppression of excitability and conductivity of the heart through the direct effects of the compounds retained at the sites of action. Amiodarone and desethylamiodarone could antagonize triiodothyronine (T3) action on the heart at cellular or subcellular levels, leading to phenotypic resemblance of long-term amiodarone treatment and hypothyroidism.

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