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Circulation. 2018 Oct 23;138(17):1879-1896. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.035455.

Modernized Classification of Cardiac Antiarrhythmic Drugs.

Author information

Department of Pharmacology, University of Oxford, United Kingdom (M.L., D.A.T.).
Key Laboratory of Medical Electrophysiology of the Ministry of Education and Institute of Cardiovascular Research, Southwest Medical University, Luzhou, China (M.L., L.W.).
Department of Cardiology, Peking University First Hospital, Beijing, China (L.W.).
Physiological Laboratory (C.L.-H.H.), University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Department of Biochemistry (C.L.-H.H.). University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.



Among his major cardiac electrophysiological contributions, Miles Vaughan Williams (1918-2016) provided a classification of antiarrhythmic drugs that remains central to their clinical use.


We survey implications of subsequent discoveries concerning sarcolemmal, sarcoplasmic reticular, and cytosolic biomolecules, developing an expanded but pragmatic classification that encompasses approved and potential antiarrhythmic drugs on this centenary of his birth.


We first consider the range of pharmacological targets, tracking these through to cellular electrophysiological effects. We retain the original Vaughan Williams Classes I through IV but subcategorize these divisions in light of more recent developments, including the existence of Na+ current components (for Class I), advances in autonomic (often G protein-mediated) signaling (for Class II), K+ channel subspecies (for Class III), and novel molecular targets related to Ca2+ homeostasis (for Class IV). We introduce new classes based on additional targets, including channels involved in automaticity, mechanically sensitive ion channels, connexins controlling electrotonic cell coupling, and molecules underlying longer-term signaling processes affecting structural remodeling. Inclusion of this widened range of targets and their physiological sequelae provides a framework for a modernized classification of established antiarrhythmic drugs based on their pharmacological targets. The revised classification allows for the existence of multiple drug targets/actions and for adverse, sometimes actually proarrhythmic, effects. The new scheme also aids classification of novel drugs under investigation.


We emerge with a modernized classification preserving the simplicity of the original Vaughan Williams framework while aiding our understanding and clinical management of cardiac arrhythmic events and facilitating future developments in this area.


anti-arrhythmia agents; arrhythmias, cardiac; homeostasis; ion channels

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