Background: Recent reports on the use of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) alone, or combined with azithromycin (AZM) in the management of severe acute respiratory syndrome MESHD coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) have raised cardiac safety concerns. Currently, there is limited mechanistic data evaluating cardiac safety with HCQ and AZM therapy.
Methods: Using comprehensive In Vitro ProArrhythmia Assay (CiPA) Schema IC50 paradigms, we examined the cardiac electrophysiological effects of HCQ and HCQ/AZM. Molecular modelling explored HCQ and AZM binding properties to hERG. Langendorff-perfused guinea-pig hearts were electrically and optically mapped by multi-electrode array and voltage (RH237) and Ca2+ (Rhod-2 AM) dyes. Human action potential and ion current reconstructions were performed in silico.
Results: HCQ blocked IKr and IK1 with IC50 concentrations (10+-0.6 and 34+-5.0 microM) within the therapeutic range observed clinically. HCQ also blocked INa and ICaL but at higher IC50, whilst Ito and IKs were unaffected. Contrastingly, AZM produced minor inhibition of INa, ICaL, IKs, and IKr,, with no effect on IK1 and Ito. HCQ + AZM combined inhibited IKr and IK1 with IC50s of 7.7 +- 0.8 microM and 30.4 +- 3.0 microM, but spared INa, ICaL and Ito,. Molecular modelling confirmed potential HCQ binding to hERG. Cardiac mapping and ECG studies in isolated hearts demonstrated that HCQ slowed heart rate and ventricular conduction with associated prolongation of PR, QRS and QT intervals. Optical mapping demonstrated, and prolonged, more heterogeneous, action potential durations and intracellular Ca2+ transients. These effects were accentuated with combined HCQ+AZM treatment, which elicited electrical alternans HP, re-entrant circuits and wave breaks. Reconstruction in a human in-silico model demonstrated that this is attributable to the integrated action of HCQ and AZM reducing IKr, IKs and IK1.
Conclusions: These data provide an electrophysiological basis for recent FDA guidelines cautioning against combined HCQ/AZM administration for the treatment of Covid-19 on the grounds of potential cardiac safety. We would strongly recommend monitoring of electrocardiographic QT interval with the use of this combination of medications.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.