Neurons expend the majority of their energy powering ion pumps to maintain the chemical gradients that power their electrical activity. To have a negative resting potential, neurons leak potassium across the membrane, which seems like a terrible waste of energy to me. I would like to know what benefit a neuron receives in exchange for this seemingly unnecessary metabolic load.
I am not asking how the resting potential is achieved. I am also not interested in the trivial answer: that the voltage-gated channels are configured to require a transition across the -40mV or so threshold in order to fire an action potential. It seems to me that this threshold is arbitrary; if there was no advantage to maintaining this gradient then neurons would have evolved to avoid it.
Any ideas? Or better yet, pointers to places where this has already been answered?
My best guess so far looks like this: The total range of available voltages is more-or-less fixed from -90 to +50mV. We want to avoid getting too close to either end, since the channels become less effective near their reversal potentials, so maybe the effective range is more like -70 to +30 (to go outside that range, we must sacrifice speed). Within that 100mV range, we leave the bottom 30mV or so for EPSP integration, and the other 60mV for action potentials. Now, if the resting potential was 0mV, the available dynamic range for integration and spiking would be much smaller which probably translates to making the output noisier.