Detajmium (4--3'-diethylamino-2'-hydroxypropyl--ajmalin) is an Na(+)-channel-blocking drug with an extremely long recovery from use-dependent sodium channel block. The aim of the present study was to investigate the rate-dependent effects of detajmium on the intraventricular conduction of isolated, spontaneously beating, guinea pig hearts in comparison with the effects of propafenone. Detajmium (0.3 microM) and propafenone (0.3 microM) caused comparable prolongations of the intraventricular conduction time during sinus rhythm. The time to steady state of the rate-dependent QRS prolongation during rapid ventricular pacing follows an exponential function of the beat number after an abrupt change of frequency and is characterized by a drug-specific time constant. This time constant was significantly longer for detajmium (tau = 265 +/- 165 beats; mean +/- SEM; n = 6) than for propafenone (tau = 31 +/- 4 beats; n = 11; p < 0.01). In the presence of propafenone, QRS duration peaked initially before decreasing to a steady state. Detajmium, in contrast, progressively broadened the QRS complex. Both substances caused the greatest increase in the ventricular effective refractory period (V-ERP) when the number of conditioning stimuli (interstimulus interval, 120 ms) was in the range of the time constant. However, when the number of conditioning stimuli was further increased, the V-ERP for propafenone diminished progressively. In conclusion, propafenone displayed, in comparison with detajmium, only a transient rate-dependent effect on intraventricular conduction and V-ERP.