By C. Toy ; Rahul Jandial ; Evan Y. Snyder
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Extra info for Case Files: Neuroscience
Postsynaptic membrane CLINICAL CASES 45 The transmission of the electrical signal occurs through specialized proteins which physically connect the two cells. Gap junctions consist of two sets of hemichannels or connexons, one each on the pre- and postsynaptic cell membranes. Connexons are in turn composed of six identical, membranespanning protein subunits called connexins. The connexins arrange in a radial array with a central open channel. Proteins on the extracellular side of the connexins identify and link with proteins on the postsynaptic connexins to form the complete conducting channel.
This system requires (1) an intact membrane to separate ions and maintain an electrochemical gradient and (2) ion channels to allow for the selective passage of ions of specific charges to generate the electrical signal. The cell membrane of the neuron is formed by a lipid bilayer and is generally impermeable to charged particles. The double layer of phospholipids is hydrophobic. Charged ions are hydrophilic and as a result attract water molecules. This allows the neuronal cell membrane to separate charges across its surface to maintain the electrochemical gradient.
Ion channels must also be selective for specific charged particles. One method by which channels select for specific ions is by size. Although the diameter of a K+ ion is larger than the diameter of a Na+ ion, the Na+ ions demonstrate a stronger electrostatic attraction for water molecules. Thus, in a solution the Na+ ion has a larger shell of water than K+ ions. Channels can therefore select for K+ ions based upon the size differential in a solution. Other types of channels are selective for specific ions based upon the ion’s electrical affinity to charged portions of the channel.
Case Files: Neuroscience by C. Toy ; Rahul Jandial ; Evan Y. Snyder