Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Pretty self explanatory question. I have a basic grasp on the "How" and "Why" of Reversal/Action Potential in and between neurons, but this question lingers.

share|improve this question
I’m not sure the question is quite clear: the repulsive force of the ions is necessary for their role (otherwise you wouldn’t get an electrochemical gradient across the membrane). – Konrad Rudolph Aug 21 '12 at 8:58
The electrochemical gradients are estabished from movement and difference of each ion internal and external concentrations - K+intracell/K+extracell -, NOT between differing ions ie not between Na+ and K+. – user972 Aug 21 '12 at 15:10
Actually a fair point. – Konrad Rudolph Aug 21 '12 at 15:20
I agree with rwst's response below, and just wanted to add that it's not the individual ion species that matter, but the fact that there are several ions, each with ion channels of varying permeabilities. Both sides of the membrane are electrically neutral, but the chemical potentials differ due to the channels. More specifically, the resting membrane potential exists because of the higher permeability of the K+ channels. – jello Aug 21 '12 at 20:42
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The carriers of the charge are ions and they get repelled from each other well enough. Other than their charge there is only the size in which they differ (for all practical purposes). This means, as long as we are talking about membrane potential, the actors are just a mix of 1+ ions which don't come near each other. When size matters, for example in an ion channel, we are talking about single particles, so there is no action of a repulsive force between K+ and Na+.

From another angle: The charge is a force that emerges from a sea of particles, regardless if they are all of one kind or mixed K+/Na+. If you talk about a force between K+ and Na+ then you would have to separate all 10^15 or so K+ ions from 10^15 or so Na+ ions which is simply impossible, as they are mixed up.

share|improve this answer
Ok, in other words.. the ions are too small and not uniformly purposed/moving to have such any such disruptive effect from hindering the AP process. Thanks for the insight, if I could trouble you for a source you surely would receive the BEST answer and this would be a resolved question. – user972 Aug 21 '12 at 15:20
This is elementary physics/chemistry. I don't need to show that atoms/molecules have no purpose, they undergo Brownian motion except when spatially hindered by a channel molecule. OK, I'll give suitable Wikipedia links. – rwst Aug 21 '12 at 16:14
Please forgive my elementary knowledge :) A good habit to source answers nonetheless, thanks! – user972 Aug 21 '12 at 16:54
Also remember that it is not Na+/K+ ions which go through the ion channels, but the solvated ions which are encased in a highly ordered water solvation sphere around them. The different sized sovlation spheres is what causes the difference in sizes for the ion channels. In a cell, negative ions would screen the positive charges from each other unless they were very close. – Nick Aug 24 '12 at 13:20

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.