My books describes this differential equation for the open state of an ion channel:

enter image description here

Where $k$ are the rate constants,

$k_1$ denotes a forward reaction

$k_{-1}$ denotes a reverse reaction in the Markov model

enter image description here

$O$ is the open state, $C$ is the closed state.

According the principle of mass conservation $ C + O = 1 $ where $ C $ denotes the closed state

"From here, it can simply shown that under steady-state conditions that $O_{\inf} = \frac{k_1}{k_1 + k_{-1}}$

and the relaxation time constant of the reaction $\tau = \frac{1}{k_1 + k_{-1}} $ "

My question is, how are $O_{\inf}$ and $\tau$ derived?

  • $\begingroup$ Is this a homework question? If so it should be tagged as such and you should provide evidence of an attempt to answer it yourself. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Aug 18, 2017 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @SheaBryan Did you mean to type $C$ instead of $V$ for the statement, "$C/V$ is the membrane potential, .."? I'm assuming you meant to type $C$, since $V$ is never used or mentioned otherwise. I am aware that voltages are involved, however, it seems to make more sense that you hit the adjacent key on the keyboard when typing this, since the usage of $C$ would be much more consistent to the surrounding statements of your post. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – user22020
    Aug 19, 2017 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Charles V wasn't important here, so I removed it; C is not the membrane potential its the closed state, such that C+O=1. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 19, 2017 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ You changed V to C and called C "voltage". That's why I explained. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 20, 2017 at 1:17

2 Answers 2


These are really math problems (algebra and basic calculus) rather than biology problems.

Oinf comes from solving algebraically the first equation you posted for steady state: i.e., when dO/dt = 0; just solve for O.

The time constant comes because this is a first-order exponential decay, which you get when you solve an equation (calculate an integral) of the form dO/dT = -lambda * O. The solution to that equation is an exponential decay of the form O(t) = O(0) * exp(-lambda*t)

tau is defined as 1/lambda and gives you the decay rate(relaxation time constant).

  • $\begingroup$ Always appreciate explanations for downvotes. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 19, 2017 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ i guess answering bad homework question $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2017 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Charles I was trying to give OP some help without doing their homework for them. I understand the style preference, though. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 19, 2017 at 22:51

My question is, how are $O_{inf}$ and $\tau $ derived?

".. it can simply be shown that under stead-state conditions .. " -- By specifically keeping in mind steady-state conditions, certain assumptions can be made when utilizing the mathematical model that the book proposes, which will ultimately allow for us to arrive at the conclusions regarding $O_{inf}$ and $\tau$.

To derive $O_{inf} = \frac{k_{1}}{k_{1} + k_{-1}}$

We'll utilize the differential equation that was provided by the book, and set $\frac{\mathrm{dO} }{\mathrm{d} t} = 0$, given the fact that we're considering steady-state conditions; i.e., a state of the ion channel in which its voltage charge and discharge have the same rate. By forcing the change in voltage charge & discharge to have a value of zero, we can solve for the steady-state voltage charge, represented by $O$.

$$\frac{\mathrm{dO} }{\mathrm{d} t} = 0 = k_{1}(1-O)-k_{-1}O$$

$$\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\: = k_{1} - k_{1}O + k_{-1}O$$

$$\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\:\: = k_{1} - O(k_{1} + k_{-1})$$
We'll now isolate $O$ by moving its terms to the L.H.S. of the equation, and then dividing by $(k_{1} - k_{-1})$.

$$0 = k_{1} - O(k_{1} + k_{-1}) $$

$$O(k_{1} + k_{-1}) = k_{1} $$

$$O_{inf} = \frac{k_{1}}{k_{1} + k_{-1}} $$

Given that the book mentions conservation of mass when contextualizing the expression $C + O = 1$, it would seem that the result of this (mathematical) expression quantifies open (and close) state of an ion channel in terms of the number of ions that are not reinforcing the conductance state at a given time. I feel that this distinction is important to make because I've encountered this equation within other contexts, and each context brings with it different sets of assumptions that can and can't be made.

To derive $\tau = \frac{1}{k_{1} + k_{-1}}$

Again, we start with the differential equation, but this time we'll integrate. For ease of notation, we'll first make the substitutions $O = y$ and $\frac{\mathrm{dO}}{\mathrm{d} t} = y'$.

Beginning with an intermediate step from the previous section,

$$\frac{\mathrm{dO} }{\mathrm{d} t} = k_{1} - O(k_{1} + k_{-1})$$

$$y' = k_{1} - y(k_{1} + k_{-1})$$

and now applying separation of variables,

$$\frac{y'}{k_{1} - y(k_{1} + k_{-1})} = 1$$

We then use $u$-substitution to integrate the L.H.S. of the equation, where $u = k_{1} - y(k_{1} + k_{-1})$ and $u' = -y'(k_{1} + k_{-1})$, which yields

$$ \int \frac{y'}{k_{1} - y(k_{1} + k_{-1})} = \int 1$$
$$-\frac{1}{k_{1} + k_{-1}} \: \int \frac{u'}{u} = \int 1$$
$$-\frac{ln|u|}{k_{1} + k_{-1}} = t$$

Solving for $u$, we have

$$- \: \frac{ln|u|}{k_{1} + k_{-1}} = t$$
$$ln|u| = \: - \: t(k_{1} + k_{-1})$$
$$u = exp\begin{Bmatrix} - t \: (k_{1} + k_{-1}) \end{Bmatrix}$$ which is the same as $$k_{1} - y(k_{1} + k_{-1}) =exp \begin{Bmatrix} - t \: (k_{1} + k_{-1}) \end{Bmatrix}$$

Now, solving for $y$ and back-substituting $O$ for $y$,
$$O = \frac{k_{1}}{k_{1} + k_{-1}} \: \: exp \begin{Bmatrix} - t \: (k_{1} + k_{-1}) \end{Bmatrix}$$
and noticing that $\frac{k_{1}}{k_{1} + k_{-1}} = O_{inf}$ we have

$$O = O_{inf} \: \: exp \begin{Bmatrix} - t \: (k_{1} + k_{-1}) \end{Bmatrix}$$
Lastly, we re-express the exponential argument as

$$- t \: (k_{1} + k_{-1}) = \frac{-t}{\frac{1}{k_{1} + k_{-1}}}$$
where $\tau = \frac{1}{k_{1} + k_{-1}},$ to then get

$$O = O_{inf} \: \: e^{-t/\tau}$$

which fits the form of the exponential decay equation, $N(t) = N_{0} \: e^{-t/\tau}$, where $N = O$ and $N_{0} = O_{inf}$, and $\tau$ is defined to be the average length of time that an ion remains unchanged by the conductance state of an ion channel at a given time $t$.


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