In a neuroscience class I'm taking, it was explained that myelin covers axons in sections, the uncovered sections are called nodes of Ranvier, and signals propagate much faster in the covered sections.

But if it is faster for signals to propagate along myelinated regions of the axon, why doesn't the entire axon get covered by myelin? Wouldn't that make it faster?


2 Answers 2


Every signal rapidly fades out with distance if it is not amplified. So if the whole axon were covered with myelin, action potentials wouldn't reach their target. Each Ranvier node can be seen as an active signal repeater.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you reference any original research paper about this "distance" that every myelinated portion should have? In another question I just posted ( biology.stackexchange.com/questions/67879/…) @Kesley R. told me that the optimal myelin sheat lenght is about 1 μm. But wouldn't it depend also on diameter of the actual axon and other physical properties? $\endgroup$
    – Liv
    Nov 17, 2017 at 7:43

Action potentials arise and propagate by membrane depolarization.

A myelin sheath is present in most neurons and is responsible for insulating the membrane against ions. The function of the myelin sheath is to prevent leakage of charge, by effectively restricting ion channels only at certain regions called Nodes of Ranvier. This ensures that depolarization at one node is effectively equivalent to depolarization at another node, which initiates an action potential at the later node and as a result the action potential effectively "jumps" from node to node - this is called saltatory conduction and it speeds up the signals.

In axons without a myelin sheath, the signal does (passively) travel the full length of the axon.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .