## Diffusion Potentials

(Anions)- Nerve fiber

(Anions)- Nerve fiber

(Anions)- Nerve fiber

Figure 5-1

A, Establishment of a "diffusion" potential across a nerve fiber membrane, caused by diffusion of potassium ions from inside the cell to outside through a membrane that is selectively permeable only to potassium. B, Establishment of a "diffusion potential" when the nerve fiber membrane is permeable only to sodium ions. Note that the internal membrane potential is negative when potassium ions diffuse and positive when sodium ions diffuse because of opposite concentration gradients of these two ions.

Relation of the Diffusion Potential to the Concentration Difference—The Nernst Potential. The diffusion potential level across a membrane that exactly opposes the net diffusion of a particular ion through the membrane is called the Nernst potential for that ion, a term that was introduced in Chapter 4. The magnitude of this Nernst potential is determined by the ratio of the concentrations of that specific ion on the two sides of the membrane. The greater this ratio, the greater the tendency for the ion to diffuse in one direction, and therefore the greater the Nernst potential required to prevent additional net diffusion. The following equation, called the Nernst equation, can be used to calculate the Nernst potential for any univalent ion at normal body temperature of 98.6°F (37°C):

Concentration inside Concentration outside where EMF is electromotive force.

When using this formula, it is usually assumed that the potential in the extracellular fluid outside the membrane remains at zero potential, and the Nernst potential is the potential inside the membrane. Also, the sign of the potential is positive (+) if the ion diffusing from inside to outside is a negative ion, and it is negative (-) if the ion is positive. Thus, when the concentration of positive potassium ions on the inside is 10 times that on the outside, the log of 10 is 1, so that the Nernst potential calculates to be -61 millivolts inside the membrane.

three factors: (1) the polarity of the electrical charge of each ion, (2) the permeability of the membrane (P) to each ion, and (3) the concentrations (C) of the respective ions on the inside (i) and outside (o) of the membrane. Thus, the following formula, called the Goldman equation, or the Goldman-Hodgkin-Katz equation, gives the calculated membrane potential on the inside of the membrane when two univalent positive ions, sodium (Na+) and potassium (K+), and one univalent negative ion, chloride (Cl ), are involved.

EMF (millivolts)

Let us study the importance and the meaning of this equation. First, sodium, potassium, and chloride ions are the most important ions involved in the development of membrane potentials in nerve and muscle fibers, as well as in the neuronal cells in the nervous system. The concentration gradient of each of these ions across the membrane helps determine the voltage of the membrane potential.

Second, the degree of importance of each of the ions in determining the voltage is proportional to the membrane permeability for that particular ion. That is, if the membrane has zero permeability to both potassium and chloride ions, the membrane potential becomes entirely dominated by the concentration gradient of sodium ions alone, and the resulting potential will be equal to the Nernst potential for sodium. The same holds for each of the other two ions if the membrane should become selectively permeable for either one of them alone.

Third, a positive ion concentration gradient from inside the membrane to the outside causes electronegativity inside the membrane. The reason for this is that excess positive ions diffuse to the outside when their concentration is higher inside than outside. This carries positive charges to the outside but leaves the nondif-fusible negative anions on the inside, thus creating electronegativity on the inside. The opposite effect occurs when there is a gradient for a negative ion.That is, a chloride ion gradient from the outside to the inside causes negativity inside the cell because excess negatively charged chloride ions diffuse to the inside, while leaving the nondiffusible positive ions on the outside.

Fourth, as explained later, the permeability of the sodium and potassium channels undergoes rapid changes during transmission of a nerve impulse, whereas the permeability of the chloride channels does not change greatly during this process. Therefore, rapid changes in sodium and potassium permeability are primarily responsible for signal transmission in nerves, which is the subject of most of the remainder of this chapter.

Calculation of the Diffusion Potential When the Membrane Is Permeable to Several Different Ions

When a membrane is permeable to several different ions, the diffusion potential that develops depends on

Measuring the Membrane Potential

The method for measuring the membrane potential is simple in theory but often difficult in practice because

Figure 5-2

Measurement of the membrane potential of the nerve fiber using a microelectrode.

of the small size of most of the fibers. Figure 5-2 shows a small pipette filled with an electrolyte solution. The pipette is impaled through the cell membrane to the interior of the fiber. Then another electrode, called the "indifferent electrode," is placed in the extracellular fluid, and the potential difference between the inside and outside of the fiber is measured using an appropriate voltmeter. This voltmeter is a highly sophisticated electronic apparatus that is capable of measuring very small voltages despite extremely high resistance to electrical flow through the tip of the micropipette, which has a lumen diameter usually less than 1 micrometer and a resistance more than a million ohms. For recording rapid changes in the membrane potential during transmission of nerve impulses, the microelectrode is connected to an oscilloscope, as explained later in the chapter.

The lower part of Figure 5-3 shows the electrical potential that is measured at each point in or near the nerve fiber membrane, beginning at the left side of the figure and passing to the right. As long as the electrode is outside the nerve membrane, the recorded potential is zero, which is the potential of the extracellular fluid. Then, as the recording electrode passes through the voltage change area at the cell membrane (called the electrical dipole layer), the potential decreases abruptly to -90 millivolts. Moving across the center of the fiber, the potential remains at a steady -90-millivolt level but reverses back to zero the instant it passes through the membrane on the opposite side of the fiber.

To create a negative potential inside the membrane, only enough positive ions to develop the electrical dipole layer at the membrane itself must be transported outward. All the remaining ions inside the nerve fiber can be both positive and negative, as shown in the upper panel of Figure 5-3. Therefore, an incredibly small number of ions needs to be transferred through the membrane to establish the normal "resting potential" of -90 millivolts inside the nerve fiber; this means that only about 1/3,000,000 to 1/100,000,000 of the total positive charges inside the fiber needs to be transferred. Also, an

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### Responses

• Matteo
What is the relationship between diffusion potentials and concentration difference.?
4 years ago
• marguerite
What is diffusion potential?
4 years ago
• corey
Which ions are only diffusion potential?
3 years ago
• herminia
What is diffusion potential in neurophysiology?
3 years ago
• brody
What is diffusion potential of biometric phenomena in physiology.?
3 years ago
• Tesfalem
How to calculate diffusion potential?
11 months ago
• selam
What is the difference between net diffusion and diffusion potential?
1 month ago
• Neftalem
What causes the diffusion of an an electrically charged ion to cease?
1 month ago