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Principles of Neural and Hormonal Communication

Chapter 4

Nerve and muscle tissues are excitable.


They can undergo rapid changes in their membrane potentials. They can change their resting potentials into electrical signals.

Nerve and muscle cells can develop several electrical states at their membranes.
Polarization - This is any state, positive or negative, other than 0 mV. Depolarization - This change makes the membrane potential less negative than the resting potential. Repolarization - The membrane returns to resting potential after depolarization. Hyperpolarization - This makes the membrane more polarized, more negative inside.

Electrical changes occur my changes in ion permeability and movement across the plasma membrane of nerve and muscle cells.
A flow of positive ions into the ICF depolarizes the cell. A flow of positive ions into the ECF can repolarize a cell after depolarization. From the resting state, a flow of positive ions into the ECF can hyperpolarize the cell.

A graded potential is a local electrical change in the membrane.


It occurs in varying grades. This change is progressively greater as the triggering event becomes progressively stronger. Usually a flow of sodium ions into the ICF produces this kind of potential. Its duration of a graded potential is directly proportional to the duration of the triggering event.

Graded potentials die out over short distances.


Their spread is decremental. Examples of graded potentials are:
postsynaptic , receptor, end-plate, pacemaker, and slow-wave

An action potential occurs if a membrane reaches threshold potential.


Voltage-gated channels in the membrane for sodium and potassium ions undergo conformational changes. The flow of sodium ions into the ICF reverses the membrane potential from -70 mV to +30 mV. The flow of potassium ions into the ECF restores the membrane potential to the resting state.

Other characteristics of the action potential include:


Sodium channels open during depolarization by positive feedback. When the sodium channels become inactive, the channels for potassium open. This repolarizes the membrane. As the action potential develops at one point in the plasma membrane, it regenerates an identical action potential at the next point in the membrane. Therefore, it travels along the plasma membrane undiminished.

The Na+/K+ pump gradually restores the concentration gradients disrupted by action potentials.
Sodium is pumped into the ECF. Potassium is pumped into the ICF.

Action potentials travel from the axon hillock to axon terminals.


The three parts of a neuron are its dendrites, cell body, and axon. Dendrites signal toward the cell body. An axon signals away from the cell body. The axon is also called the nerve fiber. The axon hillock is the first part of the axon plus the part of the cell body where the axon exits. It has the lowest threshold for the action potential.

Once initiated, an action potential is conducted throughout the axon.


A refractory period ensures one-way travel of an action potential. It also limits the frequency of action potentials. The conduction is contiguous. An action potential occurs by all or none. Stimulus strength is coded by action potential frequency.

Myelination with nodes increases the speed of conduction of the action potential.
This is saltatory conduction. The impulse jumps from node to node. The oligodendrocyte forms myelin in the CNS. The Schwann cell forms myelin in the PNS.

Two neurons can interact at the synapse.


A synapse is a junction between two neurons. The axon terminal of a presynaptic neuron can discharge a neurotransmitter. The neurotransmitter can diffuse across the synapse and excite a postsynaptic neuron.

A neurotransmitter can carry a signal across the synapse by a series of steps.


An action potential at the axon terminal of a presynaptic neuron opens calcium ion channels. Calcium flows from the ECF through the channels into the synaptic knob. This calcium influx induces the rupture of synaptic vesicles in the axon of the presynaptic neuron. These vesicles release neurotransmitter molecules which enter the synaptic cleft by exocytosis. These molecules diffuse and bind to receptors on the subsynaptic membrane of the postsynaptic neuron. This binding opens chemically-gated channels in this subsynaptic membrane, leading to events that excite the postsynaptic neuron.

The signal at the synapse either excites or inhibits the postsynaptic neuron.
Excitatory synapse:
An excitatory synapse mainly signals the influx of sodium ions into the postsynaptic neuron. This produces a EPSP and tends to depolarize the neuron. This type of synapse is always excitatory.

Inhibitory synapse:
An inhibitory synapse signals the outflow of potassium ions from the postsynaptic neuron. It can also signal the influx of chloride ions. It produces an IPSP and tends to hyperpolarize the neuron. This type of synapse is always inhibitory.

Other characteristics of neurotransmitters are:


They are quickly removed from the synaptic cleft. Some function through intracellular second-messenger systems. Presynaptic inputs determine a postsynaptic potential by temporal summation and spatial summation. By temporal summation, EPSPs occur close together in time from a single presynaptic neuron. By spatial summation, EPSPs originate from several presynaptic inputs. IPSPs can also undergo temporal and spatial summation.

Neuropeptides act mainly as neuromodulators.


They are molecules consisting of 2 to 40 amino acids. They do not produce EPSPs or IPSPs. They modulate at the synapse,bringing about long-term changes here.

The effectiveness of presynaptic input can be altered by presynaptic facilitation or inhibition.


presynaptic facilitation - There is enhanced release of the neurotransmitter from the presynaptic axon terminal. presynaptic inhibition - There is reduced release of the neurotransmitter from the presynaptic axon terminal. Each is influenced by another nearby axon.

Drugs and diseases can alter synaptic transmission.


Examples include:
Cocaine blocks the reuptake of dopamine. Parkinsons disease is due to a deficiency of dopamine in a brain region controlling complex movements. Strychnine competes with glycine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Tetanus toxin prevents the release of GABA, affecting skeletal muscles.

Neurons are linked through complex converging and diverging pathways.


By converging input a single cell is influenced by thousands of presynaptic cells. By divergence, branching axon terminals affects thousands of postsynaptic cells.

Paracrines are local chemical messengers between cells. Neurotransmitters are short-range chemical messengers released by neurons. Hormones are chemical messengers secreted by endocrine glands. Neurohormones are long-range chemical messengers secreted into the blood by neurosecretory cells.

The nervous and endocrine systems can be compared.


The nervous system transmits electrical impulses to skeletal muscles and the exocrine glands. It is wired, sending electrical signals through distinct, highly organized pathways. These pathways have interconnected parts. The endocrine system secretes hormones (chemical messengers) into the circulating blood to distant sites in the body. These glands are not connected. They are scattered throughout the body.

Other Comparisons between the two systems are:


Each neuron has a close anatomic relationship to its target cells. It has a narrow range of influence. A neuron releases a specific neurotransmitter to a specific target cell. The target cells have specific receptors that bind to the neurotransmitter secreted by a neuron. Although that neuron can potentially signal other cells, it is limited to the target cells in close proximity to that neuron. A group of endocrine cells secretes a specific hormone into the blood. Although the hormone is circulated throughout the body, only specific target cells have receptors for a specific hormone. A hormone cannot influence all body cells. It influences the target cells with receptor cells that bind to that hormone.

The nervous system coordinates rapid, precise responses. Its signal is an action potential. The duration of this signal is brief. The target cells are skeletal muscles and glands. The endocrine system controls activities of longer duration. This system requires a flow of blood to send a message. The effect of a hormone lasts longer.

The nervous and endocrine systems are interconnected functionally. Often they influence the same body process, such as the rate of heartbeat. Neuroendocrinology is the study of the relationships between these two systems.