The digitalis-like steroid hormones: new mechanisms of action and biological significance

Life Sci. 2007 May 16;80(23):2093-2107. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2007.03.013. Epub 2007 Apr 1.


Digitalis-like compounds (DLC) are a family of steroid hormones synthesized in and released from the adrenal gland. DLC, the structure of which resembles that of plant cardiac glycosides, bind to and inhibit the activity of the ubiquitous cell surface enzyme Na(+), K(+)-ATPase. However, there is a large body of evidence suggesting that the regulation of ion transport by Na(+), K(+)-ATPase is not the only physiological role of DLC. The binding of DLC to Na(+), K(+)-ATPase induces the activation of various signal transduction cascades that activate changes in intracellular Ca(++) homeostasis, and in specific gene expression. These, in turn, stimulate endocytosis and affect cell growth and proliferation. At the systemic level, DLC were shown to be involved in the regulation of major physiological parameters including water and salt homeostasis, cardiac contractility and rhythm, systemic blood pressure and behavior. Furthermore, the DLC system has been implicated in several pathological conditions, including cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, cancer and depressive disorders. This review evaluates the evidence for the different aspects of DLC action and delineates open questions in the field.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Digitalis / metabolism*
  • Endocytosis
  • Humans
  • Ions
  • Models, Biological
  • Natriuretic Agents / metabolism
  • Ouabain / pharmacology
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Potassium / chemistry*
  • Sodium / metabolism*
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / chemistry
  • Steroids / metabolism*


  • Ions
  • Natriuretic Agents
  • Plant Extracts
  • Steroids
  • Ouabain
  • Sodium
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase
  • Potassium