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Br J Pharmacol. 2006 Nov;149(5):457-9. Epub 2006 Sep 11.

Combined hERG channel inhibition and disruption of trafficking in drug-induced long QT syndrome by fluoxetine: a case-study in cardiac safety pharmacology.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Cardiovascular Research Laboratories, School of Medical Sciences, University Walk, Bristol, UK. jules.hancox@bristol.ac.uk


Drug-induced prolongation of the rate-corrected QT interval (QTCI) on the electrocardiogram occurs as an unwanted effect of diverse clinical and investigational drugs and carries a risk of potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmias. hERG (human ether-à-go-go-related gene) is the gene encoding the alpha-subunit of channels mediating the rapid delayed rectifier K+ current, which plays a vital role in repolarising the ventricles of the heart. Most QTCI prolonging drugs can inhibit the function of recombinant hERG K+ channels, consequently in vitro hERG assays are used widely as front-line screens in cardiac safety-testing of novel chemical entities. In this issue, Rajamani and colleagues report a case of QTCI prolongation with the antidepressant fluoxetine and correlate this with a dual effect of the drug and of its major metabolite norfluoxetine on hERG channels. Both compounds were found to produce an acute inhibition of the hERG channel by pharmacological blockade, but in addition they also were able to disrupt the normal trafficking of hERG protein to the cell membrane. Mutations to a key component of the drug binding site in the S6 region of the channel greatly attenuated channel block, but did not impair disruption of trafficking; this suggests that channel block and drug effects on trafficking were mediated by different mechanisms. These findings add to growing evidence for disruption of hERG channel trafficking as a mechanism for drug-induced long QT syndrome and raise questions as to possible limitations of acute screening methods in the assessment of QTcI prolonging liability of drugs in development.

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