How do calcium antagonists differ in clinical practice?

R. Ferrari, F. Cucchini, R. Bolognesi, T. Bachetti, A. Boraso, P. Bernocchi, G. Gaia, O. Visioli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The majority of calcium antagonists used clinically belong to three distinct chemical classes: the phenylalkylamines, the dihydropyridines, and the benzothiazepines. In recent years their mode of action has been unravelled, their limitations recognized, and their efficacy and use in the management of patients with a broad spectrum of cardiovascular and other disorders defined. It is clear, however, that these drugs are not all alike, providing an explanation for their differing effects. The final therapeutic effect in humans depends on the mechanisms of action at the molecular level, the tissue selectivity, and the hemodynamic changes of each agent. All these aspects are examined in detail in this article. Concepts that are highlighted are as follows: (a) Molecular biology has allowed recognition of the polypeptide components of the α1 subunit of the L-type Ca2+ channel and the finding of peptide segments covalently labelled by all three classes of drugs. (b) The location of these segments within the peptides is different: Binding sites for dihydropyridines are located externally, whereas those for verapamil and diltiazem are located internally, in the cytosolic part of the membrane. (c) Dihydropyridine binding is voltage dependent. This explains the selectivity of this class of drugs for vascular smooth muscle, which is more depolarized than cardiac muscle. (d) Phenylalkylamines and benzothiazepines reach their receptors at the internal surface of the sarcolemma through the channel lumen. Their binding is facilitated by the repetitive depolarization of atrioventricular and cardiac tissue, a phenomenon described as use dependence. This explains why these drugs are not highly selective, but equipotent for the myocardium, the atrioventricular conducting tissue, and the vasculature. (e) Dihydropyridines act through selective vasodilatation and may increase heart rate and contractility via a reflex mechanism. On the contrary, phenylalkylamines and diltiazem act through a combination of effects, including reduction of afterload, heart rate, and contractility. When taken together, all these differences distinguish the preferential clinical utilization of one of these compounds for a given cardiovascular pathology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)565-575
Number of pages11
JournalCardiovascular Drugs and Therapy
Issue number3 Supplement
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1994


  • benzothiazepines
  • calcium antagonist
  • dihydropyridines
  • diltiazem
  • nifedipine
  • phenylalkylamines
  • verapamil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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