Q.3:- Explain the following processes:
(a) Polarisation of the membrane of a nerve fibre
(b) Depolarisation of the membrane of a nerve fibre
(c) Conduction of a nerve impulse along a nerve fibre
(d) Transmission of a nerve impulse across a chemical synapse
(a) Polarisation of the membrane of a nerve fibre:
The fluid inside the membrane contains high concentration of K+ and negatively charged proteins and low concentration of Na+.
In contrast, the fluid outside the axon contains a low concentration of K+, a high concentration of Na+ and thus forms a concentration gradient.
These ionic gradients across the resting membrane are maintained by the active transport of ions by the sodium-potassium pump which transports 3 Na+ outwards for 2 K+ into the cell. As a result, the outer surface of the axonal membrane possesses a positive charge while its inner surface becomes negatively charged and therefore is polarised.
(b) Depolarisation of the membrane of a nerve fibre:
When a stimulus is applied at a site on the polarised membrane, the membrane at the site A becomes freely permeable to Na+. This leads to a rapid influx of Na+ followed by the reversal of the polarity at that site, i.e., the outer surface of the membrane becomes negatively charged and the inner side becomes positively charged. The polarity of the membrane at the site is thus reversed and hence depolarised.
(c) Conduction of a nerve impulse along a nerve fibre:
When a stimulus is applied at a site on the polarised membrane, the membrane at the site becomes freely permeable to Na+. This leads to a rapid influx of Na+ followed by the reversal of the polarity at that site, i.e., the outer surface of the membrane becomes negatively charged and the inner side becomes positively charged.
At sites immediately ahead, the axon membrane has a positive charge on the outer surface and a negative charge on its inner surface. As a result, a current flows on the inner surface from site A to site B.
On the outer surface current flows from site B to site A to complete the circuit of current flow. Hence, the polarity at the site is reversed, and an action potential is generated at site B. Thus, the impulse (action potential) generated at site A arrives at site B.
The sequence is repeated along the length of the axon and consequently the impulse is conducted.
The rise in the stimulus-induced permeability to Na+ is extremely shortlived. It is quickly followed by a rise in permeability to K+. Within a fraction of a second, K+ diffuses outside the membrane and restores the resting potential of the membrane at the site of excitation and the fibre becomes once more responsive to further stimulation.
(d) Transmission of a nerve impulse across chemical synapse:
At a chemical synapse, the membranes of the pre- and post-synaptic neurons are separated by a fluid-filled space called synaptic cleft. Chemicals called neurotransmitters are involved in the transmission of impulses at these synapses. The axon terminals contain vesicles filled with these neurotransmitters. When an impulse (action potential) arrives at the axon terminal, it stimulates the movement of the synaptic vesicles towards the membrane where they fuse with the plasma membrane and release their neurotransmitters in the synaptic cleft. The released neurotransmitters bind to their specific receptors, present on the post-synaptic membrane. This binding opens ion channels allowing the entry of ions which can generate a new potential in the post-synaptic neuron. The new potential developed may be either excitatory or inhibitory.