Resting Potential

A neuron is at rest when it is not receiving or sending a signal. In a neuron at rest, the concentration of negatively charged proteins and positively charged potassium ions, K+, is greater inside the cell than outside. In contrast, the concentration of sodium ions, Na+, is greater outside the cell than inside. The concentrations of Na+ and K+ ions are partly due to the action of the sodium-potassium pump, which actively moves Na+ out of cells while moving K+ in.

The cell membrane is permeable to some ions but not to others. Na+ ions do not readily diffuse through the membrane. So, they accumulate outside the cell. Negatively charged proteins remain inside the cell because they are too large to exit. K+ ions, however, pass freely through the membrane and tend to diffuse out of the cell. This exit of positively charged K+ ions and the retention of negatively charged proteins eventually cause the interior of the neuron to become negatively charged with respect to the exterior. This charge difference is called the resting potential of the membrane. In most neurons, the resting potential is about -70 millivolts.

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