Physical Mechanisms of Nerve Excitability

  • Harold Lecar
Part of the Studies in the Natural Sciences book series (SNS, volume 13)


The major physical process underlying transmission of signals in the nervous system is the transient flow of ionic currents across cell membrane in response to various stimuli. All cells are bounded by selectively permeable membranes, which allow ion flow in at least two different ways. There is passive flow through ionic channels, and active “pumped” flow against electrochemical potential gradients, “fueled” by metabolic energy (ATP splitting). We will be concerned with current flow through specific channels which are activated during nerve excitation. Active transport is used to charge the cell batteries but is only of indirect importance in the signalling process.


Excitable Cell Squid Giant Axon Nerve Membrane Recovery Variable Cable Structure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Hodgkin, A. L. and Huxley, A. F. (1952). J. Physiol. 117, 500–544. “A quantitative description of membrane current and its application to conduction and excitation in nerve.”Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hodgkin, A. L. (1964) “The Conduction of the Nervous Impulse”. Liverpool U. Press, Liverpool.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cole, K. S. (1968). “Membranes, Ions and Impulses”. University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Hille, B. (1970). Progs. Biophys. Mol. Biol. 21: 1–32. “Ionic Channels in Nerve Membranes.”CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ehrenstein, G. and Lecar, H. (1972). “The mechanism of signal transmission in nerve axons.” Annl Review of Biophysics and Bioengineering 1: 347–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Armstrong, C.M. (1974). “Ionic pores, gates and gating currents.” Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics 7, 179–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Hille, B. (1975). “Ionic selectivity of Na and K channels of nerve membranes.” In “Membranes: A series of advances”. G. Eisenman, ed. Marcel Dekker, Inc., N.Y.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ehrenstein, G. (1976). “Ionic channels in nerve membranes.” Physics Today 29, No. 10.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Jack, J.J.B., Noble, D. and Tsien, R.W. (1975). “Electric Current Flow in Excitable Cells”. Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Fitzhugh, R. (1962). “Computation of impulse initiation and saltatory conduction in a myelinated nerve fiber.” Biophys. J. 2: 11–21.MathSciNetADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Adrian, R. H. and Peachey, L. D. (1973). “Reconstruction of the Action Potential of Frog Sartorius Muscle.” J. Physiol. 235, 103–131.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    FitzHhugh, R. (1969). “Mathematical models of excitation and propagation in nerve.” In “Biological Engineering”, H. P. Schwann, Ed. McGraw-Hill, Inc., N.Y.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Scott, A.C. (1975) “The electrophysics of a nerve fiber.” Reviews of Modern Physics 47, 487–533.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Cohen, H. (1976). “Mathematical Developments in Hodgkin-Huxley Theory and its approximations.” Lectures on Mathematics in the Life Sciences.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Hunter, P.J., McNaughton, P.A. and Noble, D. (1975). “Analytical Models of propagation in excitable cells, Prog. Biophys. & Mol. Biol. 30, 99–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Keynes, R. D. (1975)’ “The ionic channels in excitable membranes.” In Energy Transformation in Biological Systems. Ciba Foundation Symposium 31, 191–203.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Mueller, P. and Rudin, D.O. (1969). “Translocators in Biomolecular Lipid Membranes.” Current Topics in Bioenergetics 3: 157.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ehrenstein, G. and Lecar, H. (1977) “Electrically Gated ionic channels in lipid bilayers.” Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics 10 (In press).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Lecar, H., Ehrenstein, G. and Latorre, R. (1975). “Mechanism for channel gating in excitable bilayers.’ Annals of the N.Y. Acad. Sci. 264: 304–313.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Conti, F. and Wanke, E. (1975). “Channel noise in nerve membranes and lipid bilayers.” Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics 8, 451–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Hodgkin, A. L. (1975). “The optimum density of sodium channels in an unmyelinated nerve.” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. 270: 297–300.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Harold Lecar
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Biophysics, IRP, National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and StrokeNational Institutes of HealthBethesdaUSA

Personalised recommendations