Digoxin - Mechanism of Action

Mechanism of Action

The mechanism of action is not completely understood; however, the current hypothesis is outlined below.

Digoxin binds to a site on the extracellular aspect of the α-subunit of the Na+/K+ ATPase pump in the membranes of heart cells (myocytes) and decreases its function. This causes an increase in the level of sodium ions in the myocytes, which leads to a rise in the level of intracellular calcium ions. This occurs because the sodium/calcium exchanger on the plasma membrane depends on a constant inward sodium gradient to pump out calcium. Digoxin decreases the sodium concentration gradient and the subsequent calcium outflow, thus raising the calcium concentration in myocardiocytes and pacemaker cells.

Increased intracellular calcium lengthens phase 4 and phase 0 of the cardiac action potential, which leads to a decrease in heart rate. Increased amounts of Ca2+ also leads to increased storage of calcium in the sarcoplasmic reticulum, causing a corresponding increase in the release of calcium during each action potential. This leads to increased contractility (the force of contraction) of the heart without increasing heart energy expenditure.

There is also evidence that digoxin increases vagal activity, thereby decreasing heart rate by slowing depolarization of pacemaker cells in the AV node. This negative chronotropic effect would therefore be synergistic with the direct effect on cardiac pacemaker cells. Digoxin is used widely in the treatment of various arrhythmias.

Read more about this topic:  Digoxin

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