Introduction: Drugs with no indication for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases (e.g., drugs employed to treat COVID-19) can increase the risk of arrhythmias. Of interest, a six-fold increase in the number of arrhythmic events was reported in patients with severe COVID-19. In this study, we reviewed (i) the pro-arrhythmic action of drugs given to patients with COVID-19 infection, and (ii) the effects of inflammatory cytokines on cardiac ion channels and possible generation of arrhythmias.
Methods: We conducted a literature search on the drugs with purported or demonstrated efficacy against COVID-19 disease, emphasizing the mechanisms by which anti-COVID-19 drugs and inflammatory cytokines interfere with cardiac ion channels.
Results: Antibiotics (azithromycin), antimalarials (hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine), antivirals (ritonavir/lopinavir, atazanavir), and some of the tyrosine kinase inhibitors (vandetanib) could induce long QT and increase risk for ventricular arrhythmias. The pro-arrhythmic action results from drug-induced inhibition of Kv11.1 (hERG) channels interfering with the repolarizing potassium IKr currents, leading to long QT and increased risk of triggered arrhythmias. At higher concentrations, these drugs may interfere with IKs, IK1, and/or Ito potassium currents, and even inhibit sodium (INa) and calcium (ICa) currents, inducing additional cardiac toxicity. Ibrutinib, an inhibitor of Bruton’s TK, increased the incidence of atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia associated with a short QT interval. Inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and TNF-α inhibit IKr and Ito repolarizing potassium currents. High levels of inflammatory cytokines could contribute to the arrhythmic events. For remdesivir, favipiravir, dexamethasone, tocilizumab, anakinra, baricitinib, and monoclonal antibodies (bamlanivimab, etesevimab, and casirivimab), no evidence supports significant effects on cardiac ion channels, changes in the QT interval, and increased risk for ventricular arrhythmias.
Conclusion: This study supports the concept of hERG channel promiscuity. Different drug classes given to COVID-19 patients might delay repolarization, and increase the risk of ventricular arrhythmias. The presence of comorbid pro-arrhythmic disease states, and elevated levels of pro-arrhythmic cytokines, could increase the risk of ventricular arrhythmias. Discontinuation of nonessential drugs and correction of electrolyte abnormalities could prevent severe ventricular arrhythmias. Altogether, the most effective therapies against COVID-19 (remdesivir, dexamethasone, monoclonal antibodies) lack pro-arrhythmic activity.
Keywords: Drugs and COVID-19, Torsade de Pointes, Torsade de Pointes, hERG potassium channels., Long QT, Cytokines, hERG potassium channels, Tyrosine kinase inhibitors