Summary of the Events That Cause the Action Potential

Figure 5-10 shows in summary form the sequential events that occur during and shortly after the action potential. The bottom of the figure shows the changes in membrane conductance for sodium and potassium ions. During the resting state, before the action potential begins, the conductance for potassium ions is 50 to 100 times as great as the conductance for sodium ions. This is caused by much greater leakage of potassium ions than sodium ions through the leak channels. However, at the onset of the action potential, the sodium channels instantaneously become activated and allow up to a 5000-fold increase in sodium conductance. Then the inactivation process closes the sodium channels within another fraction of a millisecond. The onset of the action potential also causes voltage gating of the potassium channels, causing them to begin opening more slowly a fraction of a millisecond after the sodium channels open. At the end of the action potential, the return of the membrane potential to the negative state causes the potassium channels to close back to their original status, but again, only after an additional millisecond or more delay.

The middle portion of Figure 5-10 shows the ratio of sodium conductance to potassium conductance at each instant during the action potential, and above this is the action potential itself. During the early portion of the action potential, the ratio of sodium to potassium conductance increases more than 1000-fold. Therefore, far more sodium ions flow to the interior of the fiber than do potassium ions to the exterior. This is what causes the membrane potential to become positive at the action potential onset. Then the sodium channels begin to close and the potassium channels to open, so that the ratio of conductance shifts far in favor of high potassium conductance but low sodium conductance. This allows very rapid loss of potassium ions to the exterior but virtually zero flow of sodium ions to the interior. Consequently, the action potential quickly returns to its baseline level.

Roles of Other Ions During the Action Potential

Thus far, we have considered only the roles of sodium and potassium ions in the generation of the action potential. At least two other types of ions must be considered: negative anions and calcium ions.

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

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