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Why nerve cells work faster than the theory allows

ot always open at the same threshold value, but nevertheless open almost simultaneously. When a sodium channel opens, it influences, according to the new model, other sodium channels in the immediate neighborhood ?the channels open "cooperatively" and not ?as according to Hodgkin-Huxley ?independently of each other and only dependent on the voltage across the membrane. To test this hypothesis, the scientists used a trick: If it would be possible to measurably stop the cooperative mechanism, then that would be a good argument for its existence. They achieved this by blocking a part of the sodium channels with the nerve poison tetrodoxin, so that the channels that still functioned lay so scattered in the membrane, that they were not able to cooperate.

Furthermore, the researchers were able to show that the cells probably used this novel mechanism to differentiate between the received signals and only answer to certain ones. Bjoern Naundorf summarizes these results, „The cells function like a high-pass filter; fast signals are transmitted well, slow signals are suppressed". Both aspects of the initiation of the action potential play different roles. The large variability of the threshold potentials allows the cells to ignore slowly varying stimuli. The cells continuously increase their threshold so that in many cases no impulse is initiated at all. The fast activation of action potentials, on the other hand, helps the cells to transmit fast changing signals, even with high precision. According to the Hodgkin-Huxley model, the cells would lack the ability to do this.

"Many scientists ?including us ?saw the Hodgkin-Huxley model up to now no longer as a hypothesis, but believed that it was principally applicable to all neurons", says Fred Wolf, who led the study at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen. He and his colleagues have now shown that this is not so. The better cognitive ability of higher animals, such as ca
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Source:Max-Planck-Gesellschaft


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