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4th February 2017

Describe how a nerve impulse is transmitted along

the axon (10)

Electrical impulses are transmitted from neuron to neuron through

nerve impulse, i.e. an action potential, when the axon membrane
rapidly depolarizes and repolarizes.

When a neurone is not sending a signal, it is at rest. An action

potential occurs when a neurone sends information down an
axon. This involves an explosion of electrical activity, where the
nerve and muscle cells resting membrane potential changes.

The axon is polarised when the inside is negatively charged and the
outside is positively charged. This is due to the Sodium-Potassium
Pump, which uses energy from ATP to actively transport 3 Sodium
ions (Na+) out of the axon and 2 Potassium ions (K+) into the axon.
The membrane remains impermeable to Na+ ions but allows K+ ions
to pass easily through and hence this imbalance of ions causes a
potential difference between the inside of the neurone and its
surroundings, called the resting potential of -70mV across the across

When a stimulus is applied, the Na+ ion channels in the axon

membrane open, causing Na+ ions to move into the axon and a rise
of the p.d, due to the positive charge increase within the axon. If the
stimulus reaches a threshold of +40mV, an action potential is
generated, which is the nerve impulse. The depolarisation causes
the inside of the axon to be positively charged and the outside to be
negatively charged.

Action potentials are considered an "all-or nothing" event. Once the

threshold potential is reached, the neuron completely depolarizes.
As soon as depolarization is complete, the cell "resets" its
membrane voltage back to the resting potential. If the
depolarisation is not great enough to reach the threshold, then an
action potential (and hence an impulse) will not be produced. This
means that the ion channels are either open or closed; there is no
halfway position.

After the action potential, the region of positive charge causes the
nearby Na+ ion channels to close. The K+ ion channels open,
allowing K+ ions to diffuse out of the axon and so the charge across
the axon membrane is brought back to its resting potential. This is

The K+ ion channels stay open after repolarisation causing a K+

overshoot. This results in hyperpolarisation when the p.d across the
membrane is more negative than the resting potential, i.e. about
4th February 2017

The axon is unable to generate an action potential during the

refractory period, which is when the neurone cannot respond to a
stimulus. There is a recovery period during which the K+ ion
channels close, causing the p.d to rise from -75mV to the resting
potential of -70mV.