The propagation potential. An axonal response with implications for scalp-recorded EEG

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An electrophysiological response of axons, referred to as the "propagation potential," was investigated. The propagation potential is a sustained voltage that lasts as long as an action potential propagates between two widely spaced electrodes. The sign of the potential depends on the direction of action potential propagation. The electrode towards which the action potential is propagating is positive with respect to the electrode from which it is receding. For normal frog sciatic nerves the magnitude of the propagation potential was 17% of the peak of the extracellular action potential; TEA increased it to 32%. For normal earthworm median or lateral giant fibers it was 30%. A ripple pattern on the propagation potential was attributed to variation in resistance along the length of the worm. Cooling increased the duration of the propagation potential and attenuated the higher frequency components of the ripple pattern. Differential records from two widely spaced intracellular microelectrodes in the same axon differed from the propagation potential. The amplitude of the plateau relative to the peak was smaller, it decreased as the action potential propagated from one electrode site to the other, and the potential did not return to zero as rapidly as for extracellular records. When propagation was blocked by heat, the propagation potential slowly decayed. There was no ripple pattern during the decay. In a volume conductor, electrodes contacting the worm did not show the typical propagation potential, but electrodes located a few centimeters away from the worm did. Simple core-conductor models based on classical action potential theory did not reproduce the propagation potential. More complex, modified core-conductor models were needed to accurately simulate it. The results suggest that long, slowly conducting fibers can contribute to the scalp-recorded EEG. © 1991, The Biophysical Society. All rights reserved.




Rudell, A. P., & Fox, S. E. (1991). The propagation potential. An axonal response with implications for scalp-recorded EEG. Biophysical Journal, 60(3), 556–567.

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