Figure 5-5

Establishment of resting membrane potentials in nerve fibers under three conditions: A, when the membrane potential is caused entirely by potassium diffusion alone; B, when the membrane potential is caused by diffusion of both sodium and potassium ions; and C, when the membrane potential is caused by diffusion of both sodium and potassium ions plus pumping of both these ions by the Na+-K+ pump.

Figure 5-5 shows the important factors in the establishment of the normal resting membrane potential of -90 millivolts. They are as follows.

Contribution of the Potassium Diffusion Potential. In Figure 5-5A, we make the assumption that the only movement of ions through the membrane is diffusion of potassium ions, as demonstrated by the open channels between the potassium symbols (K+) inside and outside the membrane. Because of the high ratio of potassium ions inside to outside, 35:1, the Nernst potential corresponding to this ratio is -94 millivolts because the logarithm of 35 is 1.54, and this times -61 millivolts is -94 millivolts. Therefore, if potassium ions were the only factor causing the resting potential, the resting potential inside the fiber would be equal to -94 millivolts, as shown in the figure.

Contribution of Sodium Diffusion Through the Nerve Membrane.

Figure 5-5B shows the addition of slight permeability of the nerve membrane to sodium ions, caused by the minute diffusion of sodium ions through the K+-Na+


Figure 5-6


Figure 5-6

leak channels. The ratio of sodium ions from inside to outside the membrane is 0.1, and this gives a calculated Nernst potential for the inside of the membrane of +61 millivolts. But also shown in Figure 5-5B is the Nernst potential for potassium diffusion of -94 millivolts. How do these interact with each other, and what will be the summated potential? This can be answered by using the Goldman equation described previously. Intuitively, one can see that if the membrane is highly permeable to potassium but only slightly permeable to sodium, it is logical that the diffusion of potassium contributes far more to the membrane potential than does the diffusion of sodium. In the normal nerve fiber, the permeability of the membrane to potassium is about 100 times as great as its permeability to sodium. Using this value in the Goldman equation gives a potential inside the membrane of -86 millivolts, which is near the potassium potential shown in the figure.

Contribution of the Na+-K+ Pump. In Figure 5-5C, the Na+-K+ pump is shown to provide an additional contribution to the resting potential. In this figure, there is continuous pumping of three sodium ions to the outside for each two potassium ions pumped to the inside of the membrane. The fact that more sodium ions are being pumped to the outside than potassium to the inside causes continual loss of positive charges from inside the membrane; this creates an additional degree of negativity (about -4 millivolts additional) on the inside beyond that which can be accounted for by diffusion alone. Therefore, as shown in Figure 5-5 C, the net membrane potential with all these factors operative at the same time is about -90 millivolts.

In summary, the diffusion potentials alone caused by potassium and sodium diffusion would give a membrane potential of about -86 millivolts, almost all of this being determined by potassium diffusion. Then, an additional -4 millivolts is contributed to the membrane potential by the continuously acting electro-genic Na+-K+ pump, giving a net membrane potential of -90 millivolts.

Nerve Action Potential

Nerve signals are transmitted by action potentials, which are rapid changes in the membrane potential that spread rapidly along the nerve fiber membrane. Each action potential begins with a sudden change from the normal resting negative membrane potential to a positive potential and then ends with an almost equally rapid change back to the negative potential. To conduct a nerve signal, the action potential moves along the nerve fiber until it comes to the fiber's end.

The upper panel of Figure 5-6 shows the changes that occur at the membrane during the action potential, with transfer of positive charges to the interior of the fiber at its onset and return of positive charges to the exterior at its end. The lower panel shows graphically the successive changes in membrane potential over a few 10,000ths of a second, illustrating the

Typical action potential recorded by the method shown in the upper panel of the figure.

explosive onset of the action potential and the almost equally rapid recovery.

The successive stages of the action potential are as follows.

Resting Stage. This is the resting membrane potential before the action potential begins. The membrane is said to be "polarized" during this stage because of the -90 millivolts negative membrane potential that is present.

Depolarization Stage. At this time, the membrane suddenly becomes very permeable to sodium ions, allowing tremendous numbers of positively charged sodium ions to diffuse to the interior of the axon. The normal "polarized" state of -90 millivolts is immediately neutralized by the inflowing positively charged sodium ions, with the potential rising rapidly in the positive direction. This is called depolarization. In large nerve fibers, the great excess of positive sodium ions moving to the inside causes the membrane potential to actually "overshoot" beyond the zero level and to become somewhat positive. In some smaller fibers, as well as in many central nervous system neurons, the potential merely approaches the zero level and does not overshoot to the positive state.

Repolarization Stage. Within a few 10,000ths of a second after the membrane becomes highly permeable to sodium ions, the sodium channels begin to close and the potassium channels open more than normal. Then, rapid diffusion of potassium ions to the exterior re-establishes the normal negative resting membrane potential. This is called repolarization of the membrane.

To explain more fully the factors that cause both depolarization and repolarization, we need to describe the special characteristics of two other types of transport channels through the nerve membrane: the voltage-gated sodium and potassium channels.

Voltage-Gated Sodium and Potassium Channels

The necessary actor in causing both depolarization and repolarization of the nerve membrane during the action potential is the voltage-gated sodium channel. A voltage-gated potassium channel also plays an important role in increasing the rapidity of repolarization of the membrane. These two voltage-gated channels are in addition to the Na+-K+ pump and the K+-Na+ leak channels.

Activation gate Na+

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