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Action Potentials: Abrupt changes in the membrane potential that sweep along the Cell membrane of excitable cells in response to excitation stimuli.

Action Potentials

JoVE 10844

Neurons communicate by firing action potentials—the electrochemical signal that is propagated along the axon. The signal results in the release of neurotransmitters at axon terminals, thereby transmitting information in the nervous system. An action potential is a specific “all-or-none” change in membrane potential that results in a rapid spike in voltage.

Neurons typically have a resting membrane potential of about -70 millivolts (mV). When they receive signals—for instance, from neurotransmitters or sensory stimuli—their membrane potential can hyperpolarize (become more negative) or depolarize (become more positive), depending on the nature of the stimulus. If the membrane becomes depolarized to a specific threshold potential, voltage-gated sodium (Na+) channels open in response. Na+ has a higher concentration outside of the cell as compared to the inside, so it rushes in when the channels open, moving down its electrochemical gradient. As positive charge flows in, the membrane potential becomes even more depolarized, in turn opening more channels. As a result, the membrane potential quickly rises to a peak of around +40 mV. At the peak of the action potential, several factors drive the potential back down. The influx of Na+ slows because the Na+ channels start to inactiv

 Core: Biology

Using TMS to Measure Motor Excitability During Action Observation

JoVE 10270

Source: Laboratories of Jonas T. Kaplan and Sarah I. Gimbel—University of Southern California


Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that involves passing current through an insulated coil placed against the scalp. A brief magnetic field is created by current in the coil, and because of…

 Neuropsychology

Neuron Structure

JoVE 10842

Neurons are the main type of cell in the nervous system that generate and transmit electrochemical signals. They primarily communicate with each other using neurotransmitters at specific junctions called synapses. Neurons come in many shapes that often relate to their function, but most share three main structures: an axon and dendrites that extend out from a cell body.

The neuronal cell body—the soma— houses the nucleus and organelles vital to cellular function. Extending from the cell body are thin structures that are specialized for receiving and sending signals. Dendrites typically receive signals while the axon passes on the signals to other cells, such as other neurons or muscle cells. The point at which a neuron makes a connection to another cell is called a synapse. Neurons receive inputs primarily at postsynaptic terminals, which are frequently located on spines—small bumps protruding from the dendrites. These specialized structures contain receptors for neurotransmitters and other chemical signals. Dendrites are often highly branched, allowing some neurons to receive tens of thousands of inputs. Neurons most commonly receive signals at their dendrites, but they can also have synapses in other areas, such as the cell body. The signal received at the synapses travels down the dendrite to the soma, where the cell can proce

 Core: Biology

The Resting Membrane Potential

JoVE 10845

The relative difference in electrical charge, or voltage, between the inside and the outside of a cell membrane, is called the membrane potential. It is generated by differences in permeability of the membrane to various ions and the concentrations of these ions across the membrane.

The membrane potential of a cell can be measured by inserting a microelectrode into a cell and comparing the charge to a reference electrode in the extracellular fluid. The membrane potential of a neuron at rest—that is, a neuron not currently receiving or sending messages—is negative, typically around -70 millivolts (mV). This is called the resting membrane potential. The negative value indicates that the inside of the membrane is relatively more negative than the outside—it is polarized. The resting potential results from two major factors: selective permeability of the membrane, and differences in ion concentration inside the cell compared to outside. Cell membranes are selectively permeable because most ions and molecules cannot cross the lipid bilayer without help, often from ion channel proteins that span the membrane. This is because the charged ions cannot diffuse through the uncharged hydrophobic interior of membranes. The most common intra- and extracellular ions found in the nervous tissue are potassium (K+), sodium (Na+…

 Core: Biology

Cross-bridge Cycle

JoVE 10870

As muscle contracts, the overlap between the thin and thick filaments increases, decreasing the length of the sarcomere—the contractile unit of the muscle—using energy in the form of ATP. At the molecular level, this is a cyclic, multistep process that involves binding and hydrolysis of ATP, and movement of actin by myosin.

When ATP, that is attached to the myosin head, is hydrolyzed to ADP, myosin moves into a high energy state bound to actin, creating a cross-bridge. When ADP is released, the myosin head moves to a low energy state, moving actin toward the center of the sarcomere. Binding of a new ATP molecule dissociates myosin from actin. When this ATP is hydrolyzed, the myosin head will bind to actin, this time on a portion of actin closer to the end of the sarcomere. Regulatory proteins troponin and tropomyosin, along with calcium, work together to control the myosin-actin interaction. When troponin binds to calcium, tropomyosin is moved away from the myosin-binding site on actin, allowing myosin and actin to interact and muscle contraction to occur. As a regulator of muscle contraction, calcium concentration is very closely controlled in muscle fibers. Muscle fibers are in close contact with motor neurons. Action potentials in motor neurons cause the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the vicinity of muscle fibers. This ge

 Core: Biology

Acquisition and Analysis of an ECG (electrocardiography) Signal

JoVE 10473

Source: Peiman Shahbeigi-Roodposhti and Sina Shahbazmohamadi, Biomedical Engineering Department, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut


An electrocardiograph is a graph recorded by electric potential changes occurring between electrodes placed on a patient's torso to demonstrate cardiac activity. An ECG signal…

 Biomedical Engineering

Hair Cells

JoVE 10854

Hair cells are the sensory receptors of the auditory system—they transduce mechanical sound waves into electrical energy that the nervous system can understand. Hair cells are located in the organ of Corti within the cochlea of the inner ear, between the basilar and tectorial membranes. The actual sensory receptors are called inner hair cells. The outer hair cells serve other functions, such as sound amplification in the cochlea, and are not discussed in detail here. Hair cells are named after the hair-like stereocilia that protrude from their tops and touch the tectorial membrane. The stereocilia are arranged by height and are attached by thin filaments called tip links. The tip links are connected to stretch-activated cation channels on the tips of the stereocilia. When a sound wave vibrates the basilar membrane, it creates a shearing force between the basilar and tectorial membranes that moves the hair cell stereocilia from side to side. When the cilia are displaced towards the tallest cilium, the tip links stretch, opening the cation channels. Potassium (K+) then flows into the cell, because there is a very high concentration of K+ in the fluid outside of the stereocilia. This large voltage difference creates an electrochemical gradient that causes an influx of K+ once the channels are opened. This influx o

 Core: Biology

Ion Channels

JoVE 10722

Ion channels maintain the membrane potential of a cell. For most cells, especially excitable ones, the inside has a more negative charge than the outside of the cell, due to a greater number of negative ions than positive ions. For excitable cells, like firing neurons, contracting muscle cells, or sensory touch cells, the membrane potential must be able to change rapidly moving from a negative membrane potential to one that is more positive. To achieve this, cells rely on two types of ion channels: ligand-gated and voltage-gated. Ligand-gated ion channels, also called ionotropic receptors, are transmembrane proteins that form a channel but which also have a binding site. When a ligand binds to the surface, it opens the ion channel. Common ionotropic receptors include the NMDA, kainate, and AMPA glutamate receptors and the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. While the majority of ionotropic receptors are activated by extracellular binding of neurotransmitters such as glutamate or acetylcholine, a few can be intracellularly activated by ions themselves. When a ligand, like glutamate or acetylcholine, binds to its receptor it allows the influx of sodium (Na+) and calcium (Ca2+) ions into the cells. The positive ions, or cations, follow down their electrochemical gradient, moving from the more positive extracellular surface to the less p

 Core: Biology

The Synapse

JoVE 10997

Neurons communicate with one another by passing on their electrical signals to other neurons. A synapse is the location where two neurons meet to exchange signals. At the synapse, the neuron that sends the signal is called the presynaptic cell, while the neuron that receives the message is called the postsynaptic cell. Note that most neurons can be both presynaptic and postsynaptic, as they both transmit and receive information. An electrical synapse is one type of synapse in which the pre- and postsynaptic cells are physically coupled by proteins called gap junctions. This allows electrical signals to be directly transmitted to the postsynaptic cell. One feature of these synapses is that they can transmit electrical signals extremely quickly—sometimes at a fraction of a millisecond—and do not require any energy input. This is often useful in circuits that are part of escape behaviors, such as that found in the crayfish that couples the sensation of a predator with the activation of the motor response. In contrast, transmission at chemical synapses is a stepwise process. When an action potential reaches the end of the axonal terminal, voltage-gated calcium channels open and allows calcium ions to enter. These ions trigger fusion of neurotransmitter-containing vesicles with the cellular membrane, releasing neurotransmitters into the small space

 Core: Biology
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