Human ether-a-gogo related gene (HERG) K+ channels as pharmacological targets: present and future implications

Biochem Pharmacol. 1998 Jun 1;55(11):1741-6. doi: 10.1016/s0006-2952(98)00002-1.


Electrophysiological and molecular biology techniques have widely expanded our knowledge of the diverse functions where K+ channels are implicated as potential and proven pharmacological targets. The aim of the present commentary is to review the recent progress in the understanding of the functional role of the K+ channels encoded by the human ether-a-gogo related gene (HERG), with particular emphasis on their direct pharmacological modulation by drugs, or on their regulation by pharmacologically relevant phenomena. About 3 years have passed since the cloning, expression, and description of the pathophysiological role of HERG K+ channels in human cardiac repolarization. Despite this short lapse of time, these K+ channels have already gained considerable attention as pharmacological targets. In fact, interference with HERG K+ channels seems to be the main mechanism explaining both the therapeutic actions of the class III antiarrhythmics and the potential cardiotoxicity of second-generation H1 receptor antagonists such as terfenadine and astemizole, as well as of psychotropic drugs such as some antidepressants and neuroleptics. It seems possible to anticipate that the main tasks for future investigation will be, on the one side, the better understanding of the intimate mechanism of action of HERG K+ channel-blocking drugs in order to elucidate the conditions regulating the delicate balance between antiarrhythmic and proarrhythmic potential and, on the other, to unravel the pathophysiological role of this K+ channel in the function of the brain and of other excitable tissues.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cation Transport Proteins*
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System / physiopathology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins*
  • ERG1 Potassium Channel
  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels
  • Heart / drug effects
  • Heart / physiopathology
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Myocardium / metabolism
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Potassium Channels / drug effects*
  • Potassium Channels / genetics
  • Potassium Channels / metabolism
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Trans-Activators*
  • Transcriptional Regulator ERG


  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents
  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • ERG protein, human
  • ERG1 Potassium Channel
  • Ether-A-Go-Go Potassium Channels
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists
  • KCNH2 protein, human
  • KCNH6 protein, human
  • Potassium Channels
  • Potassium Channels, Voltage-Gated
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transcriptional Regulator ERG

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