Thursday, February 14, 2008

Quantum model of nerve pulse I: Soliton model of nerve pulse

In the first part of series I will briefly summarize soliton model of nerve pulse proposed by Danish researchers [1,2,3,4].

  1. The temperature of the axon is slightly above the critical temperature Tc for the phase transition leading from crystal like state of the lipid layers to a liquid crystal state. Near criticality the elastic constants and heat capacity of the membrane vary strongly and have maxima at criticality so that also sound velocity varies strongly near criticality. Also the relaxation times are long. There is also dispersion present meaning that the frequency of sound wave depends nonlinearly on wave vector. Non-linearity and dispersion are prerequisites for the presence of solitons which by definition do not dissipate energy.

  2. Variations of temperature, volume, area, and thickness and also other mechanical effects are known to accompany nerve pulse propagation. It is also known that the heat density and temperature of the cell membrane increases slightly first and is then reduced. This suggests adiabaticity in average sense. These findings motivate the assumption that nerve pulse actually corresponds to acoustic soliton [2,3].

  3. Soliton model reproduces correctly the velocity of nerve pulse inside myelin sheaths but it is not clear to me how well the much lower conduction velocity in non-myelin sheathed regions is reproduced. It is not clear how the lower values of the conduction velocity and its proportionality to the axonal radius in non-myelinated regions can be understood. Intuitively it however seems clear that the lower velocity is due to the feedback from the interaction of ions with the region exterior to cell membrane. In the case of myelin sheaths the conduction of nerve pulse is usually believed to take place via saltation [6]: the depolarization induced at Ranvier node is believed to be enough to take the membrane potential below critical value in the next node so that nerve pulse hops between the nodes. Insulation would improve the insulation and make this process possible. The reversible heat transfer process is however known to be present also in the myelinated portions of axon so that there must be a pulse propagating also in these regions [3]. It is not clear how the myelin sheet can increase the velocity in the soliton model but the reduction of the feedback inducing friction suggests itself.

  4. Soliton property predicts adiabaticity. Ordinary ionic currents however dissipate so that adiabaticity assumption is questionable in standard physics context. The model does not predict the growth of entropy followed by its reduction. This behavior is consistent with adiabaticity in a time resolution of order millisecond.

  5. The estimate for the capacitor energy density during the nerve pulse is considerably smaller than the energy density is many times magnitude smaller than that of the acoustic wave. This might allow to demonstrate that Hodgkin-Huxley model is not a complete description of the situation.

  6. Authors notice [2,3] that the shapes curves representing solitonic energy density and the capacitor energy density as a function of time are essentially identical. Same applies to the experimentally deduced heat change release curve and capacitor energy density for garfish axon. Also heat release and the deviation of the membrane potential from its resting value are in exact phase. These similarities could reflect a control signal responsible for the nerve pulse originating somewhere else, perhaps at microtubuli. This could explain why secondary nerve pulse is not generated immediately after the first one although the temperature is slightly lower after the pulse than before it. This could of course be also due to the exhaustion of the metabolic resources.

For background see that chapter Quantum Model of Nerve Pulse of "TGD and EEG".


[1] Soliton model.

[2] T. Heimburg and A. D. Jackson (2005), On soliton propagation in biomembranes and nerves, PNAS vol. 102, no. 28, p.9790-9795.

[3] T. Heimburg and A. D. Jackson (2005), On the action potential as a propagating density pulse and the role of anesthetics, arXiv : physics/0610117 [].

[4] K. Graesboll (2006), Function of Nerves-Action of Anesthetics, Gamma 143, An elementary Introduction.

[5] Physicists challenge notion of electric nerve impulses; say sound more likely.

[6] Saltation.


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