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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the basis of the resting membrane potential
  • Explain the stages of an action potential and how action potentials are propagated
  • Explain the similarities and differences between chemical and electrical synapses
  • Describe long-term potentiation and long-term depression

All functions performed by the nervous system—from a simple motor reflex to more advanced functions like making a memory or a decision—require neurons to communicate with one another. While humans use words and body language to communicate, neurons use electrical and chemical signals. Just like a person in a committee, one neuron usually receives and synthesizes messages from multiple other neurons before “making the decision” to send the message on to other neurons.

Nerve impulse transmission within a neuron

For the nervous system to function, neurons must be able to send and receive signals. These signals are possible because each neuron has a charged cellular membrane (a voltage difference between the inside and the outside), and the charge of this membrane can change in response to neurotransmitter molecules released from other neurons and environmental stimuli. To understand how neurons communicate, one must first understand the basis of the baseline or ‘resting’ membrane charge.

Neuronal charged membranes

The lipid bilayer membrane that surrounds a neuron is impermeable to charged molecules or ions. To enter or exit the neuron, ions must pass through special proteins called ion channels that span the membrane. Ion channels have different configurations: open, closed, and inactive, as illustrated in [link] . Some ion channels need to be activated in order to open and allow ions to pass into or out of the cell. These ion channels are sensitive to the environment and can change their shape accordingly. Ion channels that change their structure in response to voltage changes are called voltage-gated ion channels. Voltage-gated ion channels regulate the relative concentrations of different ions inside and outside the cell. The difference in total charge between the inside and outside of the cell is called the membrane potential    .

The first image shows a voltage-gated sodium channel that is closed at the resting potential. In response to a nerve impulse the channel opens, allowing sodium to enter the cell. After the impulse the channel enters an inactive state. The channel closes by a different mechanism and, for a brief period does not reopen in response to a new nerve impulse.
Voltage-gated ion channels open in response to changes in membrane voltage. After activation, they become inactivated for a brief period and will no longer open in response to a signal.

This video discusses the basis of the resting membrane potential.

Resting membrane potential

A neuron at rest is negatively charged: the inside of a cell is approximately 70 millivolts more negative than the outside (−70 mV, note that this number varies by neuron type and by species). This voltage is called the resting membrane potential; it is caused by differences in the concentrations of ions inside and outside the cell. If the membrane were equally permeable to all ions, each type of ion would flow across the membrane and the system would reach equilibrium. Because ions cannot simply cross the membrane at will, there are different concentrations of several ions inside and outside the cell, as shown in [link] . The difference in the number of positively charged potassium ions (K + ) inside and outside the cell dominates the resting membrane potential ( [link] ). When the membrane is at rest, K + ions accumulate inside the cell due to a net movement with the concentration gradient. The negative resting membrane potential is created and maintained by increasing the concentration of cations outside the cell (in the extracellular fluid) relative to inside the cell (in the cytoplasm). The negative charge within the cell is created by the cell membrane being more permeable to potassium ion movement than sodium ion movement. In neurons, potassium ions are maintained at high concentrations within the cell while sodium ions are maintained at high concentrations outside of the cell. The cell possesses potassium and sodium leakage channels that allow the two cations to diffuse down their concentration gradient. However, the neurons have far more potassium leakage channels than sodium leakage channels. Therefore, potassium diffuses out of the cell at a much faster rate than sodium leaks in. Because more cations are leaving the cell than are entering, this causes the interior of the cell to be negatively charged relative to the outside of the cell. The actions of the sodium potassium pump help to maintain the resting potential, once established. Recall that sodium potassium pumps brings two K + ions into the cell while removing three Na + ions per ATP consumed. As more cations are expelled from the cell than taken in, the inside of the cell remains negatively charged relative to the extracellular fluid. It should be noted that calcium ions (Cl ) tend to accumulate outside of the cell because they are repelled by negatively-charged proteins within the cytoplasm.

Questions & Answers

what is oxidation?
Rose Reply
 the state or result of being oxidized
Emmanuel
hahahaha thanks, but my teachers requires a thorough meaning about that
Rose
Is the process of oxidizing ,the addition of oxygen to a compound with a loss of electrons, always accompanied by reduction
Korletey
loss of electron....
Anwar
thank you. 😊
Rose
thank you. 😊
Rose
thank you. 😊
Rose
what is oxidized
Oyebanji
what is genetic
Chibawa Reply
name the enzymes that i found in the saliva
Valuables Reply
draw a bacterium cell and label
Kadijah Reply
What are the osmoregulatory functions of the kidney?
bisi Reply
filter
Meenu
What is ecology
Hebert Reply
what is cell
Etama Reply
cell is the basic unit of life
Asiatou
cell is the basic structural and functional unit of an living organism
Darshan
a cell is the smallest and most basic unit of a living thing
John
cell is the basic unit of life. we are made up of 60,000 billions of cells.Each cell carry out a specific function in the body.
Pallavi
A cell is the smallest basic functioning unit of life.
Ali
where is the pectoral gridle located?
Tiania Reply
What is hypotonic
Bright Reply
what is hypotonic
Dangaya
Hypotonic means weak solution
Ali
the difference between the two cells
Obeng Reply
explain the courses and the correction of lon term sightedness and short term sightedness
Isaac Reply
long sightedness is said to be like someone that can see far object clearly why short sightedness is someone that only can see near obect
SHEDRACK
why drinking excess alcohol causes thirst and dehydration
uwikuzo Reply
Can we chat about nutrition please?
Elia
yes
Uzair
sure
Uzair
Uhm why is it so important to follow the nutritional process?
Elia
BC it contribute to the source of life
SHEDRACK
what is reproduction
smart Reply
it is d act of bringing young ones to life
Oyebanji
to ensure survival of a species🚴‍♀️
Michelle
what is a genotype
Collins
what is hazardous
smart
a cell is the smallest unit of a living thing. so we all have cell
smart
It is the formation of a zygote resulting from the fusion of the sperm cell with the ovum.Thus,this results in the production of new species which are genetically dissimilar from their parent cells.
Pallavi
yes we all have cell round our body without the existances of cell them they will be no life in us as human
SHEDRACK
what is size of cell
Mohd Reply
what is size of Hart
Mohd
nanometers=um sign thingie
Michelle
microns=nanometers
Michelle
monomers and polymers of nucleic acids?
Jyrl Reply
dna and rna involvement
Michelle

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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