Drug- and non-drug-associated QT interval prolongation

Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2010 Jul;70(1):16-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2010.03660.x.


Sudden cardiac death is among the most common causes of cardiovascular death in developed countries. The majority of sudden cardiac deaths are caused by acute ventricular arrhythmia following repolarization disturbances. An important risk factor for repolarization disturbances is use of QT prolonging drugs, probably partly explained by gene-drug interactions. In this review, we will summarize QT interval physiology, known risk factors for QT prolongation, including drugs and the contribution of pharmacogenetics. The long QT syndrome can be congenital or acquired. The congenital long QT syndrome is caused by mutations in ion channel subunits or regulatory protein coding genes and is a rare monogenic disorder with a mendelian pattern of inheritance. Apart from that, several common genetic variants that are associated with QT interval duration have been identified. Acquired QT prolongation is more prevalent than the congenital form. Several risk factors have been identified with use of QT prolonging drugs as the most frequent cause. Most drugs that prolong the QT interval act by blocking hERG-encoded potassium channels, although some drugs mainly modify sodium channels. Both pharmacodynamic as well as pharmacokinetic mechanisms may be responsible for QT prolongation. Pharmacokinetic interactions often involve drugs that are metabolized by cytochrome P450 enzymes. Pharmacodynamic gene-drug interactions are due to genetic variants that potentiate the QT prolonging effect of drugs. QT prolongation, often due to use of QT prolonging drugs, is a major public health issue. Recently, common genetic variants associated with QT prolongation have been identified. Few pharmacogenetic studies have been performed to establish the genetic background of acquired QT prolongation but additional studies in this newly developing field are warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology
  • Drug Interactions* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Long QT Syndrome / chemically induced*
  • Long QT Syndrome / genetics
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated / drug effects*
  • Risk Factors


  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated