The anti-malarial drug halofantrine and its metabolite N-desbutylhalofantrine block HERG potassium channels

Mackenzi Mbai, Sridharan Rajamani, Craig T. January

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Objective: The antimalarial drug halofantrine has been associated with QT interval prolongation and with fatal and nonfatal arrhythmias in patients without known underlying cardiac abnormalities. A common target for QT interval-prolonging drugs is the human ether-a-go-go gene (HERG) which encodes the pore forming subunit of the rapidly activating delayed rectifier K+current (IKr). Methods: We studied the effects of halofantrine (0.1-1000 nM) and its major metabolite N-desbutylhalofantrine (3-1000 nM) on wild type HERG K+channels stably expressed in HEK 293 cells, using the whole cell patch-clamp recording technique. Results: Halofantrine and N-desbutylhalofantrine blocked HERG K+channels in a concentration-dependent manner with a half-maximal inhibitory concentration of 21.6 nM (n=31 cells) and 71.7 nM (n=18 cells), respectively. The development of drug block for both halofantrine and N-desbutylhalofantrine required channel activation indicative of open and/or inactivated state block. Drug washout or cell hyperpolarization resulted in minimal current recovery consistent with virtually irreversible binding. Using a ventricular action potential voltage clamp protocol, halofantrine and N-desbutylhalofantrine block of HERG current was greatest during phases 2 and 3 of the action potential waveform. Conclusion: We conclude that both halofantrine and N-desbutylhalofantrine cause high affinity block of HERG K+channels. Although N-desbutylhalofantrine has been suggested to be a safer antimalarial agent compared to halofantrine, our results suggest that the gain in the safety margin for QT interval prolongation-related cardiotoxicity is minimal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)799-805
Number of pages7
JournalCardiovascular Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported in part by NIH R01 HL60723. S.R. is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship grant from the American Heart Association, Northland Affiliate. The authors thank Corey L. Anderson for his expert technical assistance with cell culture.


  • Arrhythmia (mechanisms)
  • Ion channels
  • Long QT syndrome
  • Sudden death


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