5.2: What is an Electrochemical Gradient?
Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is considered the primary energy source in cells. However, energy can also be stored in the electrochemical gradient of an ion across the plasma membrane, which is determined by two factors: its chemical and electrical gradients.
The chemical gradient relies on differences in the abundance of a substance on the outside versus the inside of a cell and flows from areas of high to low ion concentration. In contrast, the electrical gradient revolves around an ion’s electrical charge and the overall charges of the intracellular and extracellular environments.
The electrical gradient of a positively-charged ion flows from positive to negative regions, while the reverse is true for negatively-charged ions. It is the combined action of these electrical and chemical factors that determine the ultimate direction of an electrochemical gradient. When an ion moves along this path, down its electrochemical gradient, energy is freed that can then power diverse biological processes.