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BACKGROUND: Among his major cardiac electrophysiological contributions, Miles Vaughan Williams (1918-2016) provided a classification of antiarrhythmic drugs that remains central to their clinical use. METHODS: We survey implications of subsequent discoveries concerning sarcolemmal, sarcoplasmic reticular, and cytosolic biomolecules, developing an expanded but pragmatic classification that encompasses approved and potential antiarrhythmic drugs on this centenary of his birth. RESULTS: We first consider the range of pharmacological targets, tracking these through to cellular electrophysiological effects. We retain the original Vaughan Williams Classes I through IV but subcategorize these divisions in light of more recent developments, including the existence of Na+ current components (for Class I), advances in autonomic (often G protein-mediated) signaling (for Class II), K+ channel subspecies (for Class III), and novel molecular targets related to Ca2+ homeostasis (for Class IV). We introduce new classes based on additional targets, including channels involved in automaticity, mechanically sensitive ion channels, connexins controlling electrotonic cell coupling, and molecules underlying longer-term signaling processes affecting structural remodeling. Inclusion of this widened range of targets and their physiological sequelae provides a framework for a modernized classification of established antiarrhythmic drugs based on their pharmacological targets. The revised classification allows for the existence of multiple drug targets/actions and for adverse, sometimes actually proarrhythmic, effects. The new scheme also aids classification of novel drugs under investigation. CONCLUSIONS: We emerge with a modernized classification preserving the simplicity of the original Vaughan Williams framework while aiding our understanding and clinical management of cardiac arrhythmic events and facilitating future developments in this area.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1879 - 1896


anti-arrhythmia agents, arrhythmias, cardiac, homeostasis, ion channels, Action Potentials, Animals, Anti-Arrhythmia Agents, Arrhythmias, Cardiac, Calcium Channel Blockers, Heart Conduction System, Heart Rate, Humans, Ion Channels, Membrane Transport Modulators, Neurotransmitter Agents, Potassium Channel Blockers, Terminology as Topic, Voltage-Gated Sodium Channel Blockers