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To discriminate between the electrophysiologic and arrhythmogenic effects of lidocaine and those of bupivacaine, isolated, perfused canine hearts were exposed to toxic concentrations of the drugs. The preparations included the sinus node and right atrium, and, in some cases, the AV node and interventricular septum as well. Action potentials were recorded from these areas, and right atrial twitch amplitude and spontaneous rate and rhythm were monitored. Heart rate was depressed in a dose-dependent manner by both drugs, as was atrial twitch amplitude. In the absence of arrhythmias, the spontaneous rate decreased less than 30% with lidocaine up to 50 μg/ml, and with bupivacaine up to 5 μg/ml. The twitch depression reflected a potency ratio for bupivacaine (mol. wt. 288) to lidocaine (mol. wt. 234) on a mass basis of 8.1:1. The most prominent arrhythmia found was sinoatrial block, which was caused by both drugs with a potency ratio for bupivacaine to lidocaine of 15.4:1 and was reversed by 0.02 Mg/ml norepinephrine. Sinus arrhythmias, block of retrograde conduction from AV node to atrium, and irregular rhythms originating within the AV node were observed with both drugs at concentrations similar to those which produced sinoatrial block. The atrial action potential revealed decreased upstroke velocity, overshoot, and height with both lidocaine and bupivacaine, with potency ratios (bupivacaine:lidocaine) ranging from 15:1 to 26:1. In septal cells, both drugs depressed upstroke velocity, and bupivacaine lengthened action potentials by up to 14%, but lidocaine did not. The major difference between bupivacaine and lidocaine in this study was the higher potency of the former agent with respect to electrophysiologic end-points.