The funny current: cellular basis for the control of heart rate

Drugs. 2007:67 Suppl 2:15-24. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200767002-00003.


The 'funny' (pacemaker, I(f)) current, first described almost 30 years ago in sinoatrial node (SAN) myocytes, is a mixed sodium/potassium inward current, activated on hyperpolarisation in the diastolic range of voltages. 'Funny' (f) channels are activated by intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) concentrations according to a mechanism mediating regulation of heart rate by the autonomic nervous system, as well as by voltage hyperpolarisation. Structural subunits of native f-channels are the hyperpolarisation-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channels; of the four HCN isoforms known, HCN4 is the most highly expressed in SAN tissue. The I(f) current is a natural target in the search for drugs aimed specifically at affecting heart rate, given its function in pacemaking. Increased heart rate has a negative influence on clinical outcome in patients with cardiovascular disease, and indeed is also an established risk factor for cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in the general population. Clearly, therefore, independent reduction of heart rate, through inhibition of the I(f) current, appears to be a suitable therapeutic option for patients with ischaemic heart disease.beta-Adrenoceptor antagonists (beta-blockers) reduce intracellular cAMP levels, and a substantial part of their negative chronotropic effect is therefore attributable to a reduction of the I(f) current. However, neither beta-blockers nor Ca(2+) channel antagonists, both of which have traditionally been used to reduce myocardial ischaemia, are 'pure' heart rate-lowering drugs. These agents may, in fact, have adverse cardiovascular and noncardiovascular effects.Conversely, the novel heart rate-reducing agent ivabradine is a specific blocker of f-channels, hence a selective inhibitor of the pacemaker I(f) current in the SAN. Ivabradine slows heart rate by reducing the I(f) current-regulated steepness of the diastolic depolarisation in SAN myocytes, thereby increasing diastolic duration, without altering action potential duration or causing negative inotropy. As such, ivabradine is particularly useful in patients with chronic stable angina pectoris. Further clinical studies are ongoing to evaluate the efficacy of ivabradine in patients with coronary heart disease, left ventricular dysfunction and heart failure. This short article reviews the current state of knowledge of the properties of the 'funny' current in relation to exploitation of the I(f) function in pacemaking generation and modulation for the pharmacological control of heart rate.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzazepines / pharmacology
  • Benzazepines / therapeutic use
  • Cyclic AMP / physiology
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels / genetics
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hyperpolarization-Activated Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Channels
  • Ivabradine
  • Muscle Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Muscle Proteins / genetics
  • Muscle Proteins / physiology*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / prevention & control
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / drug effects
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / physiology
  • Potassium Channels
  • Protein Isoforms / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Protein Isoforms / genetics
  • Protein Isoforms / physiology
  • Sinoatrial Node / drug effects
  • Sinoatrial Node / physiology*


  • Benzazepines
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels
  • HCN4 protein, human
  • Hyperpolarization-Activated Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Channels
  • Muscle Proteins
  • Potassium Channels
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Ivabradine
  • Cyclic AMP