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StatPearls . Endowment Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.


Physiology, resting Potential

Steven M. Chrysafides; Stephen Bordes; Sandeep Sharma.

Author Information


The relaxing membrane potential is the an outcome of the motion of several different ion varieties through various ion channels and also transporters (uniporters, cotransporters, and pumps) in the plasma membrane. This movements result in various electrostatic charges across the cell membrane. Neurons and muscle cells room excitable such the these cell species can change from a relaxing state to an excited state. The relaxing membrane potential of a cabinet is characterized as the electrical potential difference across the plasma membrane once the cabinet is in a non-excited state. Traditionally, the electric potential difference across a cabinet membrane is expressed by the value inside the cell family member to the extracellular environment. <1><2>


There space a handful of crucial ions which contribute to the relaxing potential, through sodium (Na+) and potassium (K+) providing a leading influence. Miscellaneous negatively charged intracellular proteins and also organic phosphates that cannot cross the cabinet membrane are likewise contributory. Come understand exactly how the relaxing membrane potential it s okay generated and also why its value is negative, that is vital to have actually an knowledge of equilibrium potentials, permeability, and ion pumps. <1>

The equilibrium potential is calculated using the Nernst equation <3> <1>: 

Em = RT/zF * log(/).

Em= membrane equilibrium  potential

R = gas constant = 8.314472 J · K-1

T = temperature (Kelvin) 

F = Faraday"s constant = 9.65 x 104 C mol-1

Z will certainly be 1 because that a monovalent ion such together K+, and also 2 because that a divalent ion such together Ca2+ and so on. Thus the equation is:

RT/F deserve to be streamlined to 61.5 at normal body temperature.

There room two important concepts central for the knowledge of any type of membrane potential:

The first is that the distinction in the concentration gradient of one ion across a semipermeable membrane drives the direction of motion of the ion. This ionic concentration gradient, or difference across the membrane surface, is preserved by the usage of energy, either main or an additional active transport, and also creates a pressure for the motion of the ion across the membrane. Again, since of the high loved one permeability that the membrane come potassium, the result membrane potential is virtually always close to the potassium equilibrium potential. But in order because that this process to occur, a concentration gradient the potassium ions must very first be set up. This occupational is excellent by the Na+/K+ ATPase pump, i beg your pardon pumps 3 Na+ ions out that the cell and also 2K+ right into the cabinet to create the Na+ and K+ concentration gradient.

The 2nd is that the membrane is semipermeable to the ion. Over there is one ion channel that enables for the ions to pass through the membrane only when that particular ion channel is open. Thus, once the ion channel opens, the ion moves under its concentration gradient native high come low, in this instance for K+ from the within (intracellular region) to the external (extracellular region). Note: permeability is the capacity of ions to flow across the membrane even if lock are moving or not (e.g. Is there an ion channel present). However, conductance measures the motion of charge across the membrane.

We have debated the concentration gradient and membrane permeability. Now, we comment on the electrostatic gradient formed. Positive and negative ions often tend to pair v one an additional in one ionic solution, together opposites attract. However, the movement of just the cation from the within of the cell to the external of the cell pipeline behind a an unfavorable anion, and thus the inside of the cabinet becomes much more negative, if the exterior of the cabinet becomes an ext positive. This generates one electrostatic gradient that builds up over time. 

Eventually, the negative charges within the cell begin to exert a force to store the positively charged K+ ion inside the cell, a force that opposes the activity of the ions down the concentration gradient. As soon as this an unfavorable electrostatic fee is opposite the pressure of the concentration gradient, over there is no activity of the ions. This case is called the equilibrium potential for the ion, which is calculated by the Nernst equation. Note: we need to stress that only a couple of ions must move across the membrane to generate the membrane potential, and also thus do not significantly adjust the ion concentration gradient.

Since multiple ions add to the relaxing membrane potential, the Goldman-Hodgkin-Katz equation, and not the Nernst equation,  is used to calculation the membrane potential. <4> Since the ion through the greatest conductance throughout the membrane at rest is potassium, the potassium equilibrium potential is the significant contributor to the relaxing membrane potential. However due to the fact that some sodium and also other ion leak the end of the cabinet at rest, and also so the resting membrane potential is a bit an ext positive in ~ -70 mV. <5>

Permeability refers to the capacity of ions to cross the membrane and also is directly proportional come the total number of open channels for a given ion in the membrane. The membrane is permeable to K+ at rest due to the fact that many networks are open. In a typical cell, Na+ permeability is about 5% of the K+ permeability or even less, conversely, the respective equilibrium potentials are +60 mV for salt (ENa) and also −90 mV because that potassium (EK). Thus, the membrane potential will certainly not be ideal at EK but rather depolarized (more hopeful value) native EKa. Thus, the cell"s relaxing potential will certainly be roughly −73 mV.

Organ systems Involved

All cell within the body have actually a characteristic relaxing membrane potential depending on their cell type. Of major importance, however, are neurons and the three varieties of muscle cells: smooth, skeletal, and cardiac. Hence, relaxing membrane potentials are crucial to the proper functioning of the nervous and muscular systems.


Upon excitation, these cells deviate indigenous their resting membrane potential to undergo a rapid activity potential before coming returning to rest.

For neurons, the shooting of an action potential allows that cabinet to connect with various other cells via the release of assorted neurotransmitters. In muscle cells, the generation that an action potential reasons the muscle to contract.


For the vast bulk of solutes, intracellular and also extracellular concentration differ. Together a result, there is regularly a driving pressure for the activity of solutes across the plasma membrane. The direction the this steering force involves two components: the concentration gradient and the electric gradient. Concerning the concentration gradient, a solute will move native an area wherein it is more concentrated to a separate area with a reduced concentration. About the electric gradient, a charged solute will move indigenous an area with a similar charge towards a different area through an the contrary charge. All solutes are impacted by concentration gradients, however only charged solutes are influenced by electrical gradients.

In the absence of various other forces, a solute that have the right to cross a membrane will carry out so till it will equilibrium. For a non-charged solute, equilibrium will take location when the concentration of the solute becomes same on both sides of the membrane. In this case, the concentration gradient is the only element that produces a driving force for the activity of non-charged solutes. However, because that charged solutes, both the concentration and electrical gradients have to be taken right into account, as they both influence the steering force. A charged solute is stated to have completed electrochemical equilibrium across the membrane as soon as its concentration gradient is exactly equal and also opposite the of its electrical gradient. It’s essential to note that once this occurs, the does not typical that the concentration for that solute will certainly be the exact same on both sides of the membrane. Throughout electrochemical equilibrium for a fee solute, there is usually still a concentration gradient, yet an electric gradient oriented in the contrary direction negates it. Under these conditions, the electrical gradient for a provided charged solute serves together an electric potential difference throughout the membrane. The worth of this potential difference represents the equilibrium potential for the charged solute. <6>

Under physiological conditions, the ions contributing to the resting membrane potential hardly ever reach electrochemical equilibrium. One reason for this is that most ions cannot openly cross the cell membrane because it is not permeable to many ions. Because that instance, Na+ is a positively fee ion that has actually an intracellular concentration that 14 mM, one extracellular concentration that 140 mM, and also an equilibrium potential worth of +65 mV. This difference means that when the within of the cell is 65 mV greater than the extracellular environment, Na+ will be in electrochemical equilibrium across the plasma membrane. Moreover, K+ is a positively charged ion that has an intracellular concentration that 120 mM, one extracellular concentration of 4 mM, and an equilibrium potential that -90 mV; this way that K+ will certainly be in electrochemical equilibrium once the cell is 90 mV lower than the extracellular environment. 

In the resting state, the plasma membrane has slight permeability come both Na+ and K+. However, the permeability because that K+ is lot greater because of the visibility of K+ leak channels embedded in the plasma membrane, which allow K+ to diffuse out of the cell down its electrochemical gradient. Since of this magnified permeability, K+ is close to electrochemical equilibrium, and the membrane potential is close to the K+ equilibrium potential that -90 mV. The cabinet membrane at rest has actually a an extremely low permeability to Na+, which means Na+ is far from electrochemical equilibrium and the membrane potential is much from the Na+ equilibrium potential that +65 mV.<2>

The equilibrium potentials because that Na+ and K+ stand for two extremes, with the cell’s relaxing membrane potential falling what in between. Due to the fact that the plasma membrane at rest has a much higher permeability for K+, the resting membrane potential (-70 to -80 mV) is much closer to the equilibrium potential that K+ (-90 mV) 보다 it is for Na+ (+65 mV). This aspect brings up an important point: the an ext permeable the plasma membrane is come a given ion, the an ext that ion will contribute to the membrane potential (the in its entirety membrane potential will be closer to the equilibrium potential of the "dominate" ion).

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Na+ and also K+ do not reach electrochemical equilibrium. Even though a small amount of Na+ ions can go into the cell and K+ ions have the right to leave the cell via K+ leak channels, the Na+/K+ pump constantly uses power to keep these gradients. <7> This pump theatre a large role in preserving the ionic concentration gradient by trading 3 Na+ ion from within the cell, for every 2 K+ ions carried into the cell. We should stress the while this pump does not make a significant contribution come the fee of the membrane potential, that is an essential in keeping the ionic gradients of Na+ and K+ throughout the membrane. What generates the relaxing membrane potential is the K+ the leaks native the within of the cell to the outside via leak K+ channels and generates a an adverse charge in the inside of the membrane vs the outside. In ~ rest, the membrane is impermeable come Na+, as every one of the Na+ channels are closed.