Divergent proarrhythmic potential of macrolide antibiotics despite similar QT prolongation: fast phase 3 repolarization prevents early afterdepolarizations and torsade de pointes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Peter Milberg
  • Lars Eckardt
  • Hans-Jürgen Bruns
  • Julia Biertz
  • Shahram Ramtin
  • Nico Reinsch
  • Dirk Fleischer
  • Günter Breithardt
  • Wilhelm Haverkamp

Colleges, School and Institutes


Macrolide antibiotics are known to have a different proarrhythmic potential in the presence of comparable QT prolongation in the surface ECG. Because the extent of QT prolongation has been used as a surrogate marker for cardiotoxicity, we aimed to study the different electrophysiological effects of the macrolide antibiotics erythromycin, clarithromycin, and azithromycin in a previously developed experimental model of proarrhythmia. In 37 Langendorff-perfused rabbit hearts, erythromycin (150-300 microM, n = 13) clarithromycin (150-300 microM, n = 13), and azithromycin (150-300 microM, n = 11) led to similar increases in QT interval and monophasic action potential (MAP) duration. In bradycardic (atrioventricular-blocked) hearts, eight simultaneously recorded epi- and endocardial MAPs demonstrated increased dispersion of repolarization in the presence of all three antibiotics. Erythromycin and clarithromycin led to early afterdepolarizations (EADs) and torsade de pointes (TdP) after lowering of potassium concentration. In the presence of azithromycin, no EAD or TdP occurred. Erythromycin and clarithromycin changed the MAP configuration to a triangular pattern, whereas azithromycin caused a rectangular pattern of MAP prolongation. In 13 additional hearts, 150 microM azithromycin was administered after previous treatment with 300 microM erythromycin and suppressed TdP provoked by erythromycin. In conclusion, macrolide antibiotics lead to similar prolongation of repolarization but show a different proarrhythmic potential (erythromycin > clarithromycin > azithromycin). In the presence of azithromycin, neither EAD nor TdP occur. This effect may be related to a rectangular pattern of action potential prolongation, whereas erythromycin and clarithromycin cause triangular action potential prolongation and induce TdP.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-25
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2002


  • Animals, Anti-Bacterial Agents, Arrhythmias, Cardiac, Azithromycin, Blood Pressure, Clarithromycin, Electrocardiography, Erythromycin, Heart, Heart Rate, In Vitro Techniques, Long QT Syndrome, Male, Rabbits, Time Factors, Torsades de Pointes