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Flashcards in Neurotransmission Deck (35):

Action potentials

allow the membrane changes to be conveyed over long distances (e.g. from the tip of your toes to your spinal cord) because they allow regeneration (preventing the signal generation that would occur if the only forms of change in membrane voltage were graded potentials).

• Once Vm reaches the AP threshold, the cell will depolarize in a manner that is independent of the initiating stimulus

• All-or-none DOES NOT mean that all action potentials are the same size or shape—either in different neurons or on the same neuron at different times (see refractory period for an example of this)

• Multiple action potentials occur in spike trains: sequences of APs that encode information


stages to an AP

0: Resting membrane potential: the RMP fluctuates, as graded potentials (especially EPSPs and IPSPs) depolarize and hyperpolarize the membrane.

1: A sufficiently large depolarizing event allows the membrane potential to reach the threshold (2) for an action potential to occur (basically, an AP is triggered by a graded potential or a summation of several graded potentials)

2: AP threshold: the trigger point where depolarization causes a rapid depolarization that can’t be interrupted once it starts. The AP threshold is typically between -40 and -60 mV

3: Rising phase (depolarization)

4: Peak: an action potential’s depolarization generally reaches a maximum between 0 and +40 mV

5: Falling phase (repolarization)

6: Afterhyperpolarization (undershoot): the membrane potential recovers to a value more hyperpolar than the membrane potential (~-85 mV), before recovering to the RMP (0).


channel activity during an action potential

An action potential is triggered by a graded potential that causes the membrane to depolarize until it reaches the threshold for activation of voltage-gated Na channels. Opening of these channels causes a rapid depolarization. When the voltage-gated Na channels inactivate and voltage-gated K channels open, the action potential peaks. Vm then depolarizes, overshoots the resting membrane potential, as the voltage gated K channels stay open. When these channels close, the Vm returns to the resting potential.


Ionic basis during an AP

Threshold (2) and rising phase (3)
• explained by the properties of the voltage-gated Na+ channels
o activation gate opens at ~-40 mV
o opening of Na+ channels depolarizes the cell
o depolarization will cause the opening of more voltage-gated Na+ channels (called a positive feedback or regenerative progress)

Falling phase (5) and Afterhyperpolarization (6)
• explained by the properties of delayed rectifier K+ channels (one type of voltage-gated K+ channel)
o activation gate opens around 0 mV→ delayed opening relative to voltage-gated Na+ channels→ K+ leaves the cell→ repolarization toward Ek (~-88 mV)
o no inactivation gate→ channels close randomly after some period of time→ channels stay open even though the membrane has repolarized to the RMP → afterhyperpolarization


Why is the AP peak (4) NOT ENa (+60 mV)?

1) Voltage-gated Na+ channels inactivate (functionally close)
2) Large number of open channels decreases membrane resistance and the electrical driving force is less as the membrane potential nears the Na+ equil. Potential→ voltage change caused by the sodium current is not as large at positive voltages as it is between -40 and 0 mV
3) Chloride channels become more influential (remember that they do not have much effect at the resting potential because ECl is ~=RMP)→ Cl- ions enter the cell and hyperpolarize the membrane
4) Voltage-gated K+ channels activate

➢ Na+ channel inactivation would be sufficient to create the peak (i.e. Na+ channel inactivation begins the repolarization phase; K+ channel activation completes it


Graded potentials

- proportional (meaning amplitude decreases with distance)
- bidirectional (travel passively)
- can be integrated both temporally and spatially
- don’t require VG channels
Three primary forms:
1) receptor potentials occur in specialized sensory receptor cells
2) post synaptic potentials occur in neurons
— result from the activation of ligand-gated channels
— depolarizing are called excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs)
— hyperpolarizing are called inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs)
— the ionic basis of post synaptic potentials is under neurotransmission
3) end plate potentials (EPPs) occur in muscle cells (activation of ligand-gated channels)


Action potentials

- all or none
- larger
- unidirectional
- have salutatory conduction (“jumping” from node to node)

- inward Na+ currents that occur during the rising phase of an action potential spread through the interior of an axon in a manner analogous to a graded potential
- these currents will depolarize an adjacent area of membrane, causing it to reach AP threshold and open the VG Na+ channels in that region
o because the VG Na+ channels produce a regenerative current, the AP retains its amplitude with distance (it’s “all or none”) as subsequent patches of membrane are activated
- AP propagation is facilitated by myelination because:
o VG Na+ channels are concentrated at the nodes
o The myelin insulates the axon, preventing ions from leaking out and therefore has high resistance)
- As a result, the spacing between the nodes is critical; if they are too far apart, the currents will decay to the point that they are not large enough to depolarize the membrane at the next node )
o In unmyelinated axons, the VG channels must be spaced frequently enough to ensure current carried is large enough for conduction


• Refractory periods

• “All-or-none” principle: the amplitude of the change is independent of input
• Refractory periods
o Absolute: the period of time when the majority of VG Na+ channels are inactivated when no amount of depolarizing current can cause an action potential
o Relative: as VG Na+ channels transition from the inactivated to the closed state (i.e. they become capable of being activated), the membrane becomes capable of supporting a 2nd action potential
— During the relative refractory period it takes a larger than normal depolarization to produce the 2nd AP because
1) the membrane is hyperpolarized during the afterhyperpolarization
2) the large number of open channels decreases the membrane resistance, requiring more current to produce the same change in membrane voltage
— the peak of the AP will be lower in amplitude than normal
• this does not violate the principle of “all or none” which says that an AP will either occur or it won’t
• “all or none” doesn’t say anything about the amplitude of the AP!


• Conduction velocity

: the speed with which an AP propagates down an axon

• Conduction velocity is based on diameter and degree of myelination.
o Slower in small diameter fibres due to an increase in axial resistance
o Faster in myelinated fibres due to an increase in membrane resistance
o The membrane potential change within an axon (i.e. between locations that have voltage-gated channels like Nodes of Ranvier) is governed by the same forces that apply to graded potentials

• Differences in the conduction velocity explain the response to local anaesthetics.


conduction velocities of various neurons

Aa Motor
AB sensory
AGamma sensory
B autonomic

C sensory


1) Electrical synapses

• Direct electrical coupling between two cells
• Mediated by gap junctions which are pores constructed of connexin proteins
• Essentially result in the passing of a graded potential (EPSP or IPSP) between two cells
• Very rapid (no synaptic delay)
• Passive process→ signal can degrade with distance→ may not produce a large enough depolarization to initiate an AP in the postsynaptic cell
• Bidirectional (i.e. a post synaptic cell can send a message to a pre synaptic cell)


2) Chemical synapses

• Slow
• Active (require ligand-gated channels)
• Pseudo-unidirectional


safety factor

➢ The probability that a presynaptic AP will produce a postsynaptic AP is termed the safety factor.
➢ Neither electrical or chemical synapses are perfectly secure
➢ Many central synapses fail more than 50% of the time
➢ The neuromuscular junction may be the most secure synapse; in health people, the safety factor of that synapse is >50%


5. Identify the steps in chemical neurotransmission,

NT release
Receptor Activation
Active Termination


1) Neurotransmitter release

• NT release from the presynaptic terminal consists of a series of steps
a) Depolarization of the terminal membrane
b) Activation of VG Ca2+ channels
c) Ca2+ entry (the amount of Ca2+ that enters the terminal is extremely dependent upon the amplitude and shape of the action potential→ an exception to the idea that all APs are created equal)
d) A subsequent release of neurotransmitter into the synaptic cleft (resulting from a conformational change in specific proteins in docked synaptic vesicles that will fuse with the plasma membrane)
e) Vesicle fusion causes NT to spill into the synaptic cleft and diffuse towards the receptors on the postsynaptic cell
• The NT release mechanisms are disrupted in several diseases and by some biological toxins


2) Receptor activation

• Chemical signals from a neuron can act:
a) On itself: autocrine
b) Locally: paracrine(NTs and neuromodulators)
c) Distantly: endocrine (hormones)
• Speed of action
a) Fast: receptors are ligand-gated ion channels= ionotropic
b) Slow: receptors coupled to 2nd messenger system= metabotropic
— Alter the function of ion channels via indirect mechanisms
— Can lead to opening, closing, or modulation of ion channels
• A single NT can act via both ionotrpic and metabotroic receptors at the same time.
• There are 7 ionotropic receptor types and over 1000 metabotropic receptor types
• Effect on postsynaptic Vm
a) Excitatory: produce a depolarization= EPSPs
b) Inhibitory: produce a hyperpolarization= IPSPs


3) Active termination

• Three mechanisms for terminating the actions of NTs
1. Diffusion (e.g. amino acid NTs like glutamate and GABA)
2. Enzymatic degradation (e.g. Ach)
3. Reuptake (e.g. monoamines)


Lambert – Eaton Syndrome

• Rare, autoimmune disorder where antibodies destroy a specific subtype of VB Ca2+ channel resulting in muscle weakness due to a decrease in Ca2+-triggered NT release in skeletal muscle
• Amplitude of muscle contraction increases with repeated stimulation, because the Ca2+ concentration builds up with repeated stimulation, prolonging and strengthening the muscle contraction
• Treatment: diaminopyridine (a K+ channel blocker) because it prolongs the AP by slowing down repolarization and thereby increasing the amount of Ca2+ that enters the terminal.


Botulinum Toxin

• Several forms
• All destroy components of the docking apparatus (SNAP- 25, synaptobrevin, and syntaxin) which are required for vesicle fusion in neurons that utilize ACh as a NT thereby preventing muscle contraction
• Clinically important for two reasons
1. When produced during an infection by the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium botulinum (usually due to food poisoning), it can produce a fatal respiratory arrest by preventing NT release by neurons innervating the diaphragm
2. At low doses, it can be used as a treatment for several conditions including strabismus (muscle imbalance that results in misalignment of the visual axes of the two eyes) and incontinence as well as erasure of wrinkles (which are sustained by muscle contractions)


Tetanus Toxin

• Destroys one of the components of the docking apparatus (synaptobrevin) selectively in inhibitory interneurons
• Made by Clostridium tetani, which is an anaerobic bacterium widely found in soil, and in the gastrointestinal tract
• The toxin is transported retrogradely back across synapses until it is taken up by the synaptic terminals of interneurons where it blocks release of inhibitory neurotransmitters
• The result of the inhibitory blockade is that motorneurons become overactive→ unceasing, severe muscle contractions that result in lockjaw and opisthotonos


6. Define and compare excitatory and inhibitory postsynaptic potentials, and ionotropic and metabotropic receptors.

EPSPs: depolarizing postsynaptic potentials occurring in neurons
IPSPs: hyperpolarizing postsynaptic potentials occurring in neurons
Ionotropic receptors: ligand-gated transmembrane ion channels that can open or close a channel and allow smaller particles (ions) to travel in and out
Metabotropic: do not have channels that open or close. Instead, they are linked to a secondary messenger (e.g. a G protein coupled receptor)


voltage-gated ion channels vs ionotropic receptors

VG Ion Channels
- activation gate that keeps the channel closed until the membrane potential reaches a specific voltage
- some have an inactivation ball that fits into the channel and plugs it
- all channels have open and closed states; some channels have open, closed, and inactivated states

Ionotropic Receptors
- also known as ligand-gated ion channels
- heteromeric or homomeric oligomers
- binding of a ligand to the ion channel results in opening of the channel to increase ion flow through the channel or closing to decrease ion flow
- 3 types of ionotropic glutamate receptors (AMPA, kainite, and NMDA receptors)
- glutamate receptors are
tetramers composed of
different subunits whose
helical domains span the
membrane 3 times


Types of glutamatergic receptors

• AMPA: excitatory ionotropic
• NMDA: excitatory ionotropic with recruitment of 2nd messenger
• mGluR: metabotropic



excitatory ionotropic
o Mediate most of the fast excitatory transmission in the brain
o have a non-selective cation channel similar to the nACh receptor (although an AMPA receptor only admits Na+ and K+) and a desensitization mechanism that closes the channel quickly
o AMPA receptor-mediated EPSPs start and end quickly



excitatory ionotropic with recruitment of 2nd messenger
o Non-selective cation channel (allows Na+, K+, and Ca2+ to pass through)
o At the resting potential the channel is blocked by Mg2+
— Depolarization (usually via AMPA receptors) repels the Mg2+ from the channel, opening it if glutamate is bound to the NMDA receptor
— The result is activity-dependent receptor activation that has 2 consequences:
1) Na+ influx causes further depolarization and keeps the channel open (continue the elimination of the Mg+ block)
2) Influx of Ca2+ causes release of Ca2+ from intracellular stores (Ca2+-induced Ca2+ release); the Ca2+ acts as a 2nd messenger, triggering changes in ion channel activity, modification of cytoskeletal proteins and altering gene expression (i.e. producing long-term changes in response to a short-term event)
— the physiological consequenceof NMDA receptor activation is long-term potential (LTP)—a long-lasting increase in synaptic strength that is measured by comparing the amplitude of EPSPs before and after pairing inputs
— in effect, the NMDA receptor functions as a coincidence detector, causing long-term changes to neuronal structure and function in response to one input if another input is present (i.e. there is a learned association between two stimuli)



o 8 types
o work either by increasing IP3/DAG or by decreasing cAMP
o mGluRs act as regulators of the activity of other receptors (especially NMDA receptors


8. Distinguish among the mechanisms that are used to terminate the actions of neurotransmitters.

There are 3 mechanisms to terminate the actions of NTs:
1) Diffusion (e.g. amino acid NTs like glutamate and GABA)
2) Enzymatic degradation (e.g. Ach)
3) Reuptake (e.g. monoamines)


9. Relate synaptic integration to the properties of graded potentials

Synaptic integration: EPSPs and IPSPs are integrated at the axon hillock, but graded potentials interact in all regions of the cell surface

Two primary forms of integration:
1) Spatial: the changes in Vm introduced by 2 or more presynaptic neurons are added
— The amount of integration is limited by the length constant (i.e. if a signal from 1 synapse degrades before it can reach a 2nd synapse, no integration can occur)
— Length constant: in the absence of any active, regenerative processes (such as an AP), a graded potential will decay as it travels away from its site of origin (also referred to as the distance where a graded potential has decreased to 37% of its original amplitude)
2) Temporal: the changes in Vm produced by multiple PSPs arriving from a single presynaptic neuron

In summary
PSPs occurring at the same time summate across space
PSPs occurring at the same place summate across time


b. Tricyclic antidepressants, cocaine, amphetamine and SSRIs

• The actions of monamine neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) are terminated by reuptake mechanisms.
• Reuptake transporters are drug targets: tricyclic antidepressants block reuptake of norepinephrine and serotonin, cocaine and amphetamine block the transport of all 3 monamine NTs and specific serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs; used to treat depression) block 5HT uptake
o Specific transporters in the membrane of the presynaptic axon terminal move monamine NTs out of the synaptic cleft and back into the presynaptic neuron
o Several different types of monamine transporters:
1. Relatively selective transporters: these transporters are named for the molecule that they primarily transport—dopamine transporter (DAT), norepinephrine transporter (NET), serotonin transporters (SERTs)
— These transporters are not perfectly selective (i.e. the dopamine transporter will transport norepinephrine and serotonin)
2. Organic Cation Transporters (OCTs)
3. Plasma Membrane Monoamine Transporter (PMAT)


d. Nerve gases and insecticides

• These are cholinesterase inhibitors
• Treatment of Myasthenia Gravis (autoimmune disease targeting nACh receptors which leads to rapid muscle fatigue)


e. General anaesthetics, sedatives, hypnotics, and anticonvulsants

• GABA A receptor
• The GABA A receptor is a chloride channel
• in adult neurons, the reversal potential for chloride ions is ~-70 mV, therefore activating the GABA A receptor if the voltages are more depolarized than -70 mV will result in inward movement of Cl-, producing hyperpolarization
o activation of GABA A receptors also decreases membrane resistance, making it more difficult to depolarize the cell during action potentials
• GABA A is a target of many therapeutics, including general anesthetics, anxiolytics, hypnotics, and anticonvulsants



• elevated plasma (extracellular fluid) K+ concentration caused by
o increased uptake
o decreased renal elimination
— renal failure
— adrenal disease
— medications that alter kidney function
o increased release from intracellular stores due to tissue damage
• a change of [K+]out from the normal range of 3.5-5 to the hyperkalemic value of 7 raises Ek from -88 to -83 mV→ cells depolarize → RMP is closer to action potential threshold → cells become more excitable
• the most life threatening consequence of hyperkalemia is arrhythmia and/or cardiac arrest, due to depolarization of the resting potential of cardiac myocytes
• larger depolarizations prevent cardiac action potentials from occurring, therefore heart contractions will stop completely


Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis

• autosomal dominant disease caused by mutation of a voltage-gated Na+ channel found in muscle cells
• mutation causes the channels to stay open in the presence of elevated extracellular K+ concentrations (e.g. during exercise)
• the muscles become unable to contract → patients are unable to move immediately after exercise


Nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptor

• the most well understood ionotropic receptor
• binding of 2 ACh molecules causes a non-selective ion channel to open
o Na+, K+, and Ca2+ will all pass through the channel (contrasts with the selectivity of voltage-gated channels, which only admit a single type of ion)
o When the membrane potential is at rest, Na+ will preferentially pass through the channel, because the driving force for Na+ is much greater than for K+
o Na+ entry causes the postsynaptic cell to depolarize, generating an EPSP which can lead to action potential generation
— As the membrane potential depolarizes, the Na+ and K+ will compete for entry
• The exact composition of the subunits of the recptor varies with the tissue
o Important differences exist between the nACh receptors found in brain, skeletal muscle, and autonomic ganglia (determines which agonists and antagonists will act at which site)


i. Tetrodotoxin, saxitoxin and brevitoxin poisoning

• Several biotoxins target voltage-gated Na+ channels
o Tetrodotoxin (TTX) produced by puffer fish (used in sushi)
o Saxitoxin and brevetoxin made by plankton; people that eat shellfish exposed to red tides can be poisoned by these toxins
• Result in paralysis (can be fatal if respiratory muscles are affected)