Distribution of positively and negatively charged ions in the extracellular fluid surrounding a nerve fiber and in the fluid inside the fiber; note the alignment of negative charges along the inside surface of the membrane and positive charges along the outside surface. The lower panel displays the abrupt changes in membrane potential that occur at the membranes on the two sides of the fiber.
equally small number of positive ions moving from outside to inside the fiber can reverse the potential from -90 millivolts to as much as +35 millivolts within as little as 1/10,000 of a second. Rapid shifting of ions in this manner causes the nerve signals discussed in subsequent sections of this chapter.
The resting membrane potential of large nerve fibers when not transmitting nerve signals is about -90 millivolts. That is, the potential inside the fiber is 90 millivolts more negative than the potential in the extracellular fluid on the outside of the fiber. In the next few paragraphs, we explain all the factors that determine the level of this resting potential, but before doing so, we must describe the transport properties of the resting nerve membrane for sodium and potassium.
Active Transport of Sodium and Potassium Ions Through the Membrane—The Sodium-Potassium (Na+-K+) Pump. First, let us recall from Chapter 4 that all cell membranes of the body have a powerful Na+-K+ that continually pumps sodium ions to the outside of the cell and potassium ions to the inside, as illustrated on the left-hand side in Figure 5-4. Further, note that this is an electrogenic pump because more positive charges are pumped to the outside than to the inside (three Na+ ions to the outside for each two K+ ions to the inside), leaving a net deficit of positive ions on the inside; this causes a negative potential inside the cell membrane.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.