Understanding the electrical behavior of the action potential in terms of elementary electrical sources.

Author: Rodriguez-Falces J1.
Affiliation: 1Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Public University of Navarra, Campus de Arrosadía, Pamplona, Spain javier.rodriguez.falces@gmail.com
Conference/Journal: Adv Physiol Educ.
Date published: 2015 Mar
Other: Volume ID: 39 , Issue ID: 1 , Pages: 15-26 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1152/advan.00130.2014 , Word Count: 265

A concept of major importance in human electrophysiology studies is the process by which activation of an excitable cell results in a rapid rise and fall of the electrical membrane potential, the so-called action potential. Hodgkin and Huxley proposed a model to explain the ionic mechanisms underlying the formation of action potentials. However, this model is unsuitably complex for teaching purposes. In addition, the Hodgkin and Huxley approach describes the shape of the action potential only in terms of ionic currents, i.e., it is unable to explain the electrical significance of the action potential or describe the electrical field arising from this source using basic concepts of electromagnetic theory. The goal of the present report was to propose a new model to describe the electrical behaviour of the action potential in terms of elementary electrical sources (in particular, dipoles). The efficacy of this model was tested through a closed-book written exam. The proposed model increased the ability of students to appreciate the distributed character of the action potential and also to recognize that this source spreads out along the fiber as function of space. In addition, the new approach allowed students to realize that the amplitude and sign of the extracellular electrical potential arising from the action potential are determined by the spatial derivative of this intracellular source. The proposed model, which incorporates intuitive graphical representations, has improved students' understanding of the electrical potentials generated by bioelectrical sources and has heightened their interest in bioelectricity.
Copyright © 2015 The American Physiological Society.
bioelectrical source; biomedical engineering; dipole; electrostatic theory; extracellular potential; membrane potential
PMID: 25727465