about -40 millivolts, the sodium-calcium channels become "activated," thus causing the action potential. Therefore, basically, the inherent leakiness of the sinus nodal fibers to sodium and calcium ions causes their self-excitation.
Why does this leakiness to sodium and calcium ions not cause the sinus nodal fibers to remain depolarized all the time? The answer is that two events occur during the course of the action potential to prevent this. First, the sodium-calcium channels become inactivated (i.e., they close) within about 100 to 150 milliseconds after opening, and second, at about the same time, greatly increased numbers of potassium channels open. Therefore, influx of positive calcium and sodium ions through the sodium-calcium channels ceases, while at the same time large quantities of positive potassium ions diffuse out of the fiber. Both of these effects reduce the intracellular potential back to its negative resting level and therefore terminate the action potential. Furthermore, the potassium channels remain open for another few tenths of a second, temporarily continuing movement of positive charges out of the cell, with resultant excess negativity inside the fiber; this is called hyperpolarization. The hyperpolar-ization state initially carries the "resting" membrane potential down to about -55 to -60 millivolts at the termination of the action potential.
Last, we must explain why this new state of hyper-polarization is not maintained forever. The reason is that during the next few tenths of a second after the action potential is over, progressively more and more potassium channels close. The inward-leaking sodium and calcium ions once again overbalance the outward flux of potassium ions, and this causes the "resting" potential to drift upward once more, finally reaching the threshold level for discharge at a potential of about -40 millivolts. Then the entire process begins again: self-excitation to cause the action potential, recovery from the action potential, hyperpolarization after the action potential is over, drift of the "resting" potential to threshold, and finally re-excitation to elicit another cycle. This process continues indefinitely throughout a person's life.
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