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Ion channels and action potentials




The action potential results from the changes in the permeability of cell membranes to ions. At rest, the membrane permeability of a nerve fibre is thought to depend on ion channelsthrough which specific ions can move. An ion channel consists of a protein molecule spanning the membrane, with a pore through the centre. Sodium ions move through one type of channel and potassium ions through another. There are many more of these ion channels for potassium than for sodium, therefore at rest the membrane permeability to potassium ions is much greater than that to sodium ions.

During an action potential, special ion channels control ion movements across the membrane. These channels are believed to have voltage-sensitive gates that open and close in response to voltage changes, and are therefore called voltage-gated ion channels.

During the resting potential, the voltage-gated sodium and potassium ion channels are closed. When a stimulus is applied, sodium ion channels open rapidly, sodium ions move in, and the inside becomes more positive. If the stimulus reaches the threshold level, an action potential occurs. When the action potential reaches its peak, the sodium ion channels close slowly and potassium ion channels open slowly. Sodium ions stop moving into the cell but potassium ions diffuse more rapidly out. These changes cause the potential difference to drop. When the membrane returns to its resting potential, potassium ion channels close, but because they do this slowly, the potential dips below the resting level. Finally, when the potassium ion channels are closed, the membrane returns to its resting condition.

So far, we have examined how an action potential is generated at the point of stimulation. However, this is only the first step in the propagation of a nerve impulse along a neurone. These localised action potentials are converted into nerve impulses which transmit information from one part of a neurone to another neurone or to an effector such as a muscle or a gland.



Action potentials obey the all-or-none law.This means that no matter how strong the stimulus, the size of an action potential is always the same. Therefore, information about the strength of a stimulus is carried along a nerve fibre not as variations in the size of nerve impulses, but by changes in their frequency. The next spread discusses these points more fully.

■ Glossary of essential terms for you to know

N English term Russian equivalent
1. voltage электрическое напряжение
2. potential difference зд. разница потенциалов
3. reference electrode контрольный электрод
4. cathode ray oscilloscope электролучевой / катодный / электронный осциллоскоп
5. by convention условно считается, что; обычно, по определению;
6. relative to smth. относительно чего-л.
7. resting potential потенциал покоя; остаточный потенциал
8. on the contrary напротив; на самом деле
9. to result from sth. быть следствием, происходить в результате чего-л.
10. sodium-potassium pump калиево-натриевый насос
11. to pump out выкачивать, высасывать
12. on its own сам по себе
13. permeable проницаемый
14. concentration gradient градиент концентрации; перепад концентраций
15. equilibrium равновесие, баланс
16. action potential потенциал действия
17. reversal of charge перезарядка; перемена знака заряда
18. to reach a peak достигнуть высшей точки
19. at rest в состоянии покоя; в неподвижном состоянии
20. voltage-sensitive потенциалочувствительный
21. voltage change скачкообразное изменение напряжения
22. voltage-gated потенциалозависимый
23. all-or-none law закон «всё или ничего»

■ Your Essential Assignments.

I. Quick check

What are the main factors that determine the resting potential of a neurone?

II. Using monolingual English dictionary write down what the words below mean:

To insert, surface, to expend, charged, to amplify, to exceed.

III. Match the words in the left column with the definitions in the right:

1. ion channels a) electrical signals conveyed by neurones
2. repolarisation b) channels which have voltage-sensitive gates that open and close in response to voltage changes
3. resting neurone c) channels through which specific ions can move
4. all-or-none law d) neurone which doesn`t convey a nerve impulse
5. nerve impulse e) no matter how strong the stimulus, the size of an action is always the same
6. voltage-gated ion channels f) the return of the potential difference towards the resting potential

 




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