Excitation of Skeletal Muscle Neuromuscular Transmission and Excitation Contraction Coupling

Transmission of Impulses from Nerve Endings to Skeletal Muscle Fibers: The Neuromuscular Junction

The skeletal muscle fibers are innervated by large, myelinated nerve fibers that originate from large motoneurons in the anterior horns of the spinal cord. As pointed out in Chapter 6, each nerve fiber, after entering the muscle belly, normally branches and stimulates from three to several hundred skeletal muscle fibers. Each nerve ending makes a junction, called the neuromuscular junction, with the muscle fiber near its midpoint. The action potential initiated in the muscle fiber by the nerve signal travels in both directions toward the muscle fiber ends. With the exception of about 2 per cent of the muscle fibers, there is only one such junction per muscle fiber.

Physiologic Anatomy of the Neuromuscular Junction—The Motor End Plate. Figure 7-1A and B shows the neuromuscular junction from a large, myelinated nerve fiber to a skeletal muscle fiber. The nerve fiber forms a complex of branching nerve terminals that invaginate into the surface of the muscle fiber but lie outside the muscle fiber plasma membrane. The entire structure is called the motor end plate. It is covered by one or more Schwann cells that insulate it from the surrounding fluids.

Figure 7-1C shows an electron micrographic sketch of the junction between a single axon terminal and the muscle fiber membrane. The invaginated membrane is called the synaptic gutter or synaptic trough, and the space between the terminal and the fiber membrane is called the synaptic space or synaptic cleft. This space is 20 to 30 nanometers wide. At the bottom of the gutter are numerous smaller folds of the muscle membrane called subneural clefts, which greatly increase the surface area at which the synaptic transmitter can act.

In the axon terminal are many mitochondria that supply adenosine triphos-phate (ATP), the energy source that is used for synthesis of an excitatory transmitter acetylcholine. The acetylcholine in turn excites the muscle fiber membrane. Acetylcholine is synthesized in the cytoplasm of the terminal, but it is absorbed rapidly into many small synaptic vesicles, about 300,000 of which are normally in the terminals of a single end plate. In the synaptic space are large quantities of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which destroys acetylcholine a few milliseconds after it has been released from the synaptic vesicles.

Secretion of Acetylcholine by the Nerve Terminals

When a nerve impulse reaches the neuromuscular junction, about 125 vesicles of acetylcholine are released from the terminals into the synaptic space. Some of the details of this mechanism can be seen in Figure 7-2, which shows an expanded view of a synaptic space with the neural membrane above and the muscle membrane and its subneural clefts below.

Synaptic Gutter
Figure 7-1

Different views of the motor end plate. A, Longitudinal section through the end plate. B, Surface view of the end plate. C, Electron micrographic appearance of the contact point between a single axon terminal and the muscle fiber membrane. (Redrawn from Fawcett DW, as modified from Couteaux R, in Bloom W, Fawcett DW: A Textbook of Histology. Philadelphia: WB Saunders, 1986.)

Synaptic Gutter

Release of acetylcholine from synaptic vesicles at the neural membrane of the neuromuscular junction. Note the proximity of the release sites in the neural membrane to the acetylcholine receptors in the muscle membrane, at the mouths of the subneural clefts.

On the inside surface of the neural membrane are linear dense bars, shown in cross section in Figure 7-2. To each side of each dense bar are protein particles that penetrate the neural membrane; these are voltage-gated calcium channels. When an action potential spreads over the terminal, these channels open and allow calcium ions to diffuse from the synaptic space to the interior of the nerve terminal. The calcium ions, in turn, are believed to exert an attractive influence on the acetylcholine vesicles, drawing them to the neural membrane adjacent to the dense bars. The vesicles then fuse with the neural membrane and empty their acetylcholine into the synaptic space by the process of exocytosis.

Although some of the aforementioned details are speculative, it is known that the effective stimulus for causing acetylcholine release from the vesicles is entry of calcium ions and that acetylcholine from the vesicles is then emptied through the neural membrane adjacent to the dense bars.

Effect of Acetylcholine on the Postsynaptic Muscle Fiber Membrane to Open Ion Channels. Figure 7-2 also shows many very small acetylcholine receptors in the muscle fiber membrane; these are acetylcholine-gated ion channels, and they are located almost entirely near the mouths of the subneural clefts lying immediately below the dense bar areas, where the acetylcholine is emptied into the synaptic space.

Each receptor is a protein complex that has a total molecular weight of 275,000. The complex is composed

Release of acetylcholine from synaptic vesicles at the neural membrane of the neuromuscular junction. Note the proximity of the release sites in the neural membrane to the acetylcholine receptors in the muscle membrane, at the mouths of the subneural clefts.

of five subunit proteins, two alpha proteins and one each of beta, delta, and gamma proteins. These protein molecules penetrate all the way through the membrane, lying side by side in a circle to form a tubular channel, illustrated in Figure 7-3. The channel remains constricted, as shown in section A of the figure, until two acetylcholine molecules attach respectively to the two alpha subunit proteins. This causes a conforma-tional change that opens the channel, as shown in section B of the figure.

The opened acetylcholine channel has a diameter of about 0.65 nanometer, which is large enough to allow the important positive ions—sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), and calcium (Ca++)—to move easily through the opening. Conversely, negative ions, such as chloride ions, do not pass through because of strong negative charges in the mouth of the channel that repel these negative ions.

Figure 7-3

Acetylcholine channel. A, Closed state. B, After acetylcholine (Ach) has become attached and a conformational change has opened the channel, allowing sodium ions to enter the muscle fiber and excite contraction. Note the negative charges at the channel mouth that prevent passage of negative ions such as chloride ions.

In practice, far more sodium ions flow through the acetylcholine channels than any other ions, for two reasons. First, there are only two positive ions in large concentration: sodium ions in the extracellular fluid, and potassium ions in the intracellular fluid. Second, the very negative potential on the inside of the muscle membrane, -80 to -90 millivolts, pulls the positively charged sodium ions to the inside of the fiber, while simultaneously preventing efflux of the positively charged potassium ions when they attempt to pass outward.

As shown in Figure 7-35, the principal effect of opening the acetylcholine-gated channels is to allow large numbers of sodium ions to pour to the inside of the fiber, carrying with them large numbers of positive charges. This creates a local positive potential change inside the muscle fiber membrane, called the end plate potential. In turn, this end plate potential initiates an action potential that spreads along the muscle membrane and thus causes muscle contraction.

Destruction of the Released Acetylcholine by Acetylcholinesterase. The acetylcholine, once released into the synaptic space, continues to activate the acetyl-choline receptors as long as the acetylcholine persists in the space. However, it is removed rapidly by two means: (1) Most of the acetylcholine is destroyed by the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which is attached mainly to the spongy layer of fine connective tissue that fills the synaptic space between the presynaptic nerve terminal and the postsynaptic muscle membrane. (2) A small amount of acetylcholine diffuses out of the synaptic space and is then no longer available to act on the muscle fiber membrane.

The short time that the acetylcholine remains in the synaptic space—a few milliseconds at most—normally is sufficient to excite the muscle fiber. Then the rapid removal of the acetylcholine prevents continued muscle re-excitation after the muscle fiber has recovered from its initial action potential.

End Plate Potential and Excitation of the Skeletal Muscle Fiber.

The sudden insurgence of sodium ions into the muscle fiber when the acetylcholine channels open causes the electrical potential inside the fiber at the local area of the end plate to increase in the positive direction as much as 50 to 75 millivolts, creating a local potential called the end plate potential. Recall from Chapter 5 that a sudden increase in nerve membrane potential of more than 20 to 30 millivolts is normally sufficient to initiate more and more sodium channel opening, thus initiating an action potential at the muscle fiber membrane.

Figure 7-4 shows the principle of an end plate potential initiating the action potential. This figure shows three separate end plate potentials. End plate potentials A and C are too weak to elicit an action potential, but they do produce weak local end plate voltage changes, as recorded in the figure. By contrast, end plate potential B is much stronger and causes enough sodium channels to open so that the self-regenerative effect of more and more sodium ions

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Essentials of Human Physiology

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  • cherie
    What is defferent between sybeptic cleft and syneptic gutter?
    4 years ago
    What is the differences between excitation contraction coupling and neuromuscular transmission?
    3 years ago
  • stewart
    Is excutation contraction and coupling similar to nueromascular junction?
    2 years ago

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