The Journal of Membrane Biology

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 351–374 | Cite as

Membrane excitability and dissipative instabilities

  • Robert Blumenthal
  • Jean-Pierre Changeux
  • René Lefever
Article

Summary

Electrical excitation is interpreted in terms of a cooperative structural transition of membrane protomers coupled with the translocation of a permeant molecule in a non-equilibrium environment. Equations for flow of permeant and for membrane conformation are derived for the simple case of a single non-charged permeant. On the basis of a few simple physical assumptions, the theory predicts several important properties of electrically excitable membranes: the steepness of the relation between membrane conductance and potential, the presence of a negative conductance, and the occurrence of instabilities following rapid perturbations of membrane environment, giving rise to some simple cases of action potentials. Several experimental tests of the membrane with its changes of electrical properties are proposed. From a thermodynamic point of view, an electrically excitable membrane, in its resting state, lies beyond a dissipative instability and consequently is in a non-equilibrium state but with stable organization, a “dissipative structure” of Prigogine. Membrane excitation following a small perturbation of the environment would correspond to a jump from such an organization to another stable organization but close to thermodynamic equilibrium. It is shown how the cooperative molecular properties of the membrane are amplified by energy dissipation at the macroscopic level.

Keywords

Macroscopic Level Dissipative Structure Membrane Conductance Thermodynamic Point Membrane Excitability 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1970

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Blumenthal
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jean-Pierre Changeux
    • 1
    • 2
  • René Lefever
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Département de Biologie MoléculaireInstitut PasteurParisFrance
  2. 2.Faculté des SciencesUniversité Libre de BruxellesBrusselsBelgium

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