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Cardiac cells undergo depolarization and repolarization about 60 times per minute to form and propagate cardiac action potentials. The shape and duration of each action potential are determined by the activity of ion channel protein complexes in the membranes of individual cells, and the genes encoding most of these proteins and their regulators now have been identified. Action potentials in turn provide the primary signals to release Ca2+ from intracellular stores and to thereby initiate contraction. Thus, each normal heartbeat results from the highly integrated electrophysiological behavior of multiple proteins on the surface and within multiple cardiac cells. Disordered cardiac rhythm can arise from influences such as inherited variation in ion channel or other genes, ischemia, sympathetic stimulation, or myocardial scarring. Available antiarrhythmic drugs suppress arrhythmias by blocking flow through specific ion channels or by altering autonomic function. An increasingly sophisticated understanding of the molecular basis of normal and abnormal cardiac rhythm may lead to identification of new targets for antiarrhythmic drugs and perhaps improved therapies (Dobrev et al., 2012; Van Wagoner et al., 2015).

Arrhythmias can range from incidental, asymptomatic clinical findings to life-threatening abnormalities. Mechanisms underlying cardiac arrhythmias have been identified in cellular and animal experiments. For some human arrhythmias, precise mechanisms are known, and treatment can be targeted specifically to those mechanisms. In other cases, mechanisms can be only inferred, and the choice of drugs is based largely on results of prior experience. Antiarrhythmic drug therapy has two goals: termination of an ongoing arrhythmia or prevention of an arrhythmia. Unfortunately, antiarrhythmic drugs may not only help control arrhythmias but also can cause them, even during long-term therapy. Thus, prescribing antiarrhythmic drugs requires that precipitating factors be excluded or minimized, that a precise diagnosis of the type of arrhythmia (and its possible mechanisms) be made, that the prescriber has reason to believe that drug therapy will be beneficial, and that the risks of drug therapy can be minimized.



AF: atrial fibrillation/flutter

4-AP: 4-aminopyridine

AV: atrioventricular

β blocker: β adrenergic receptor antagonist

CPVT: catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia

DAD: delayed afterdepolarization

DC: direct current

EAD: early afterdepolarization

ECG: electrocardiogram

ERP: effective refractory period

GX: glycine xylidide

HERG: human ether-a-go-go related gene

ICD: implantable cardioverter-defibrillator

IV: intravenous

LQTS: long QT syndrome

LV: left ventricle

NCX: Na+-Ca2+ exchanger

PSVT: paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia

RV: right ventricle

RyR2: ryanodine receptor type 2

SA: sinoatrial

SERCA2: SR-Ca2+ ATPase

SR: sarcoplasmic reticulum

VF: ventricular fibrillation

VT: ventricular tachycardia

WPW: Wolff-Parkinson-White


The flow of ions across cell membranes generates the currents that make up cardiac action potentials. Factors that determine the magnitude of individual currents and their modulation by drugs include transmembrane potential, time since depolarization, or the presence of specific ligands (Nerbonne and Kass, 2005; Priori et al., 1999). Further, ...

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