- Electrotonic potential
In physiology, electrotonic conduction refers to the passive conduction of current, and can be considered the opposite of
saltatory conduction. In order for a neuronto fire, there are two types of electrical potentials produced. The first is a non-propagated local potential called an electrotonic potential and the second is a propagated impulse called an action potential. Electrotonic potentials represent changes to the neuron's membrane potentialthat do not lead to the generation of new current by action potentials. [ [http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/electrotonic electrotonic - definition of electrotonic in the Medical dictionary - by the Free Online Medical Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia ] ] Neurons which are small in relation to their length, such as some neurons in the brain have only electrotonic potentials (starbust amacrine cells in the retinaare believed to have these properties); longer neurons utilize electrotonic potentials to trigger the action potential.
The electrotonic potential travels via electrotonic spread, which amounts to simple diffusion of the ions down their electrochemical gradient within the cell. If
sodiumions enter via a single channel in a dendrite, they are in higher concentration at that location and therefore spread out into the lower concentration areas, bringing with them their positive charge. Electrotonic potentials can sum spatially or temporally. Spatial summation is the combination of multiple sources of ion influx (multiple channels within a dendrite, or channels within multiple dendrites), where temporal summation is a gradual increase in overall charge due to repeated influxes in the same location. Because the ionic charge enters in one location and dissipates to others, losing intensity as it spreads, electrotonic spread is a graded response. It is important to contrast this with the all-or-nonepropagation of the action potentialdown the axon of the neuron.
Electrotonic spread is generally responsible for increasing the voltage of the soma (neuronal cell body) sufficiently to exceed threshold and trigger the action potential; its summation properties described above make it suitable for integrating input from many different sources. Such input may be depolarizing (positive charge, such as sodium) or hyperpolarizing (negative charge, such as
Electrotonic potentials are conducted faster than action potentials, but attenuate rapidly so are unsuitable for long-distance signaling.
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