17. Nervous system II

Last updated on November 19, 2018 at 17:16

Ion channels

Ever wondered how ion channels can be specific for one ion? How can a Na+-channel not let K+ also pass through?

Ion channels are a sort of “tube” in the cellular membrane. Because different ions have different sizes, it seems obvious that the tube is just large enough for a specific ion so that larger ions cannot pass through. But what stops smaller ions from passing through? An energetical barrier does. It’s not a physical barrier. When the “correct” ion passes through an ion channel, it has some loose bindings to the walls of the “tube” on the way. This decreases the energy that is required for passing through. However, if a smaller ion tries to pass, it’s too small to keep these bindings, making it too energetically expensive for it to pass through.

There are some ion-channels that open or close in response to increased or decreased membrane potentials. These are called voltage-gated ion channels. They work with electrostatic forces. That’s all we need to know.

Neuronal growth

Neurons are very picky about where they want to grow their long processes. Neurons don’t survive on glass or metal and won’t grow their processes on either of these materials. In the body, neurons travel on processes of glial cells. A protein called nerve growth factor (NGF) is essential for a nerve to grow.

Nerves can grow processes over long distances which will eventually reach other cells like Schwann cells. Schwann cells produce so-called target derives trophic factors, which let the nerve cells know which direction to grow their processes in to make the process reach the Schwann cell.

Learning

Protein kinase A is very important in learning, or classical conditioning, in the snail Aplysia Californica. PKA phosphorylates and inactivates K+-channels, which alters the membrane potentials and therefore the nerve signal. This influences learning. PKA is activated by cAMP. The enzyme phosphodiesterase (PDE) breaks down cAMP. If PDE is impaired either genetically or by medication, cAMP won’t be broken down, so the K+-channels will be phosphorylates too much, which inhibits learning.

This figure shows the process of potassium channel phosphorylation by PKA (the “active kinase”)

Previous page:
16. Nervous system I

Next page:
18. Nervous system III

Leave a Reply

Only the "Comment" field must be filled in. It is not compulsory to fill out your name; you can remain anonymous. Do not fill out e-mail or website; if you do, your comment will not be published.