Case files neuroscience by Jandial, Rahul; Neman, Josh; Snyder, Evan Y.; Toy, Eugene C

By Jandial, Rahul; Neman, Josh; Snyder, Evan Y.; Toy, Eugene C

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Signaling through the nervous system requires large changes in electrical potential to propagate signals through and between neurons. These electrical potentials are created by substantial changes in permeability to Na+, K+, and Cl− ions. The large changes in electrical potential, however, are created by only a very small net movement of ions. During an action potential, there is very little change in the concentration gradients of the ions. CASE CORRELATES • See Cases 1-10 (cellular and molecular neuroscience cases).

A single axon arises from the cell body and serves as the main conducting unit for carrying electrical signals to other neurons and muscles. These electrical signals, called action potentials, are rapid all-or-none transmissions down the length of the axon. Action potentials are formed at the axon hillock, the origin of the axon from the cell body. To facilitate transmission of the electrical signal, axons may be wrapped in myelin sheaths produced by oligodendrocytes or Schwann cells. • The presynaptic terminal at the end of the axon forms a synapse with the postsynaptic cell, that is, other neurons or muscle cells.

During this period, the nerve can be restimulated to fire an action potential by a supernormal stimulus. A larger than normal depolarizing stimulus is required to overcome the overshoot during repolarization by the voltage-gated K+ channels. For a neuron to signal other cells over distances, the action potential must be propagated down the length of the axon. The initial depolarization and resulting action potential occurs in only a small segment of the axon, creating a local current. This depolarizing current travels distally down the axon and results in the next under-threshold segment reaching threshold.

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