Membrane Ion Channels
Every cell membrane contains ion channels, macromolecular pores that allow specific ions to travel through the channels by a passive process, driven by their concentration gradient and the membrane potential. One of the most extensively studied problems in physiology is the regulation of such ionic currents. Indeed, in practically every chapter of this book there are examples of how the control of ionic current is vital for cellular function. Already we have seen how the cell membrane uses ion channels and pumps to maintain an intracellular environment that is different from the extracellular environment, and we have seen how such ionic separation results in a membrane potential. In subsequent chapters we will see that modulation of the membrane potential is one of the most important ways in which cells control their behavior or communicate with other cells. However, to understand the role played by ion channels in the control of membrane potential, it is first necessary to understand how membrane ionic currents depend on the voltage and ionic concentrations.
There is a vast literature, both theoretical and experimental, on the properties of ion channels. One of the best books on the subject is that of Hille (2001), to which the reader is referred for a more detailed presentation than that given here. The bibliography provided there also serves as a starting point for more detailed studies.
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