Digitalis: new actions for an old drug

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2005 Nov;289(5):H1781-93. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00707.2004.


The mechanisms by which digitalis causes its therapeutic and toxic actions have been studied for nearly a half century, revealing a great deal about cardiac cell regulation of intracellular ions via the Na-K-ATPase (NKA) and how it is altered by cardiac glycosides. However, recent observations suggest that digitalis may have additional effects on cardiac cell function in both the short and long term that include intracellular effects, interactions with specific NKA isoforms in different cellular locations, effects on intracellular (including nuclear) signaling, and long-term regulation of intracellular ionic balances through circulating ouabain-like compounds. The purpose of this review is to examine the current status of a number of the newest and most interesting developments in the study of digitalis with a particular focus on cardiac function, although we will also discuss some of the new advances in other relevant cardiovascular effects. This new information has important implications for both our understanding of ionic regulation in normal and diseased hearts as well as for potential avenues for the development of future therapeutic interventions for the treatment of heart failure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cardiotonic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cardiotonic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Digitalis Glycosides / pharmacology*
  • Digitalis Glycosides / therapeutic use
  • Hemodynamics / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-2 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents
  • Cardiotonic Agents
  • Digitalis Glycosides
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-2