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Resting Membrane Potential

Resting Membrane Potential

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Published by Ali Inam

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Published by: Ali Inam on Mar 25, 2011
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09/04/2012

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What is Resting Membrane Potential?
All living cells have an electrical potential, or voltage, across their outer membranes. Thisvoltage, called resting membrane potential, is created by ions inside and outside of the cell. Ionsare electrically charged atoms, or molecules, so if the concentration of an ion differs on either side of a cellular membrane, electrical voltage can result. Voltage is the separation of positiveand negative charges across a resistive barrier, and in the case of cells, the cell membraneprovides the resistive barrier.In most cells, there is a higher concentration of potassium (K+) inside than outside the cell and ahigher concentration of chloride (Cl-) and sodium (Na+) outside the cell than inside. It takesenergy for cells to maintain different internal ion concentrations than the extracellular milieu,because ions can enter and exit the cell by diffusing through the membrane, and by movingthough protein channels. Cells use a sodium/potassium pump to constantly expel three sodiumions from the cell, each time two potassium ions are moved inside the cell. The cell membrane isfairly permeable to potassium ions, however, so potassium ions diffuse out of the cell, leavingbehind them a net negative charge at the interior side of the cell membrane. This net negativecharge means that the resting membrane potential of the average cell is about -70 milivolts
Mechanism of an Action Potential:
The resting membrane potential sets the stage for communication and movement in neurons andmuscle cells. An action potential is the mechanism neurons use to send signals to other neurons,or to muscle cells. When a nerve is stimulated, protein channels in the membrane open, and letsodium into the cell, making the membrane potential more positive. This depolarization of themembrane spreads down the length of a neuron until it reaches the point at which the neuronconnects with a muscle cell, or another neuron. At that point, the depolarization cause the releaseof signaling molecules, which, in turn, cause an action potential in the muscle cell or secondnerve cell.Shortly after the sodium channels open, potassium channels open as well, letting potassium outof the cell and making the membrane potential more negative again (repolarization
 
). The cycle of depolarization and repolarization caused by the opening of sodium and potassium channels iscalled an action potential. Potassium channels let enough potassium out of the cell that themembrane potential is actually a little more negative than -70 milivolts after the completion of anaction potential. A resting membrane potential of -70 milivolts returns quickly, however, becauseof the constant action of sodium/potassium pumps, which maintain physiologically appropriatelevels of sodium and potassium in the cell. Once resting membrane potential has been restored,the cell is competent to undergo another action potential.
Ion Pumps:
A major contribution to establishing the membrane potential is made by the sodium-potassiumexchange pump. This is a complex of proteins embedded in the membrane that derives energy
 
from ATP in order to transport sodium and potassium ions across the membrane. On each cycle,the pump exchanges three Na
+
ions from the intracellular space for two K 
+
ions from theextracellular space. If the numbers of each type of ion were equal, the pump would beelectrically neutral, but because of the three-for-two exchange, it gives a net movement of onepositive charge from intracellular to extracellular for each cycle, thereby contributing to apositive voltage difference. The pump has three effects: (1) it makes the sodium concentrationhigh in the extracellular space and low in the intracellular space; (2) it makes the potassiumconcentration high in the intracellular space and low in the extracellular space; (3) it gives theextracellular space a positive voltage with respect to the intracellular space.The sodium-potassium exchange pump is relatively slow in operation. If a cell were initializedwith equal concentrations of sodium and potassium everywhere, it would take hours for thepump to establish equilibrium. The pump operates constantly, but becomes progressively lessefficient as the concentrations of sodium and potassium available for pumping are reduced.Another functionally important ion pump is the sodium-calcium exchanger. This pump operatesin a conceptually similar way to the sodium-potassium pump, except that in each cycle itexchanges three Na
+
from the extracellular space for one Ca
++
from the intracellular space.Because the net flow of charge is inward, this pump runs "downhill", effectively, and thereforedoes not require any energy source except the membrane voltage. Its most important effect is topump calcium outward²it also allows an inward flow of sodium, thereby counteracting thesodium-potassium pump, but because overall sodium and potassium concentrations are muchhigher than calcium concentrations, this effect is relatively unimportant. The net result of thesodium-calcium exchanger is that in the resting state, intracellular calcium concentrationsbecome very low.
Factors that Affect RMP:
I
n most Resting nerve cells, the resting membrane potential comes to a relatively stableequilibrium around -70 Mv.This voltage is due to
y
 
S
odium-Potassium pump proteins
 
y
 
L
arge, negatively charged , intracellular proteins
y
 
The permeability of the plasma membrane to potassium but not sodium
Resting Membrane:
y
 
This net negative charge means that the
resting
 
membrane
potential of the average cellis about -70 milivolts. The
resting
 
membrane
potential sets the stage for communicationand movement in neurons and muscle cells.
y
 
The cell then reestablishes its
resting
potential using the Na+/K+-ATPase in the processof repolarization. Calcium (Ca) ions are also important in maintaining the
resting
 
membrane
potential in muscle cells. The Ca2+ ions are stored in an organelle called thesarcoplasmic reticulum, which contains protein pumps to maintain high concentrations of Ca2+ inside the compartment
.Resting Potential:
y
 
Action
po
tentials
, muscle contraction, and establishing or changing equilibriumprocesses in the cell all involve the membrane¶s
resting
 
po
tential
. There are varyingconcentrations of ions in the cytosol, or cell interior, as well as inside different cellular compartments and organelles.
y
 
The inside of the cell becomes positive and the outside negative. This sudden reversal of the
resting
 
po
tential
that accompanies the impulse is the action
po
tential
. An action

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