An Electro-Diffusion Model for Computing Membrane Potentials and Ionic Concentrations in Branching Dendrites, Spines and Axons

Ning Qian and Terrence J. Sejnowski, Biol. Cybern. 1989, 62:1-15. Download the full paper (PDF file)


The Nernst-Planck equation for electro-diffusion was applied to axons, dendrites and spines. For thick processes (1 um) the results of computer simulation agreed accurately with the cable model for passive conduction and for propagating action potentials. For thin processes (0.1 um) and spines, however, this cable model may fail during transient events such as synaptic potentials. First, ionic concentrations can rapidly change in small compartments, altering ionic equilibrium potentials and the driving forces for movement of ions across the membrane. Second, longitudinal diffusion may dominate over electrical forces when ionic concentration gradients become large. We compare predictions of the cable model and the electro-diffusion model for excitatory postsynaptic potentials on spines and show that there are significant discrepancies for large conductance changes. The electro-diffusion model also predicts that inhibition on small structures such as spines and thin processes is ineffective. We suggest a modified cable model that gives better agreement with the electro-diffusion model.

Back to Qian Lab Home Page