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What Is the Connection between Calcium and Action Potential?

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  • Written By: Erik J.J. Goserud
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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In order to understand calcium and action potential, it is best to look at this process as a whole. The firing of chemical impulses across nervous pathways can be thought of as the action potential. This process is necessary for neurons to release chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters facilitate intercellular communication in the nervous system and are essential for its processes. Calcium plays an important role in allowing this to occur.

The nervous system is the medium through which the body senses and reacts to the outside world. Without a properly functioning system, a person will not be able to experience environmental stimuli or react properly to them. There are sensory aspects, as well as motor, or action, aspects to the nervous system, most of which rely on the brain and spinal cord as their central processing stations. Touching a burner, for example, is picked up by a sensory nerve and sent to the spinal cord for processing, and a motor nerve tells the body's muscles to contract in a way that removes the appendage from the potentially dangerous situation.

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Calcium and action potential are closely related in allowing this example stimulus and action to occur. An action potential cannot happen without a triggering stimulus — this may be natural, like touching a burner, or synthesized, as in the case of electrical shock devices. This initial stimulus sets off the chain of events that allows for neurons to communicate with each other. These electrophysiological events culminate in the release of a neurotransmitter into the microscopic gap between neurons known as the synapse. Calcium and action potential come together here as calcium cations aid in neurotransmitter mobility.

Not every cell that is excitable follows the same method for achieving action potential; for example, in cardiac cells, calcium may also be used as a trigger to open the cellular gates, which give rise to much of the chemical activity responsible for action potentials. Sodium and potassium are the two most typical ions involved in initiating action potentials; however, calcium and action potential stimulation may also be related. The complexities of this esoteric and theoretical explanation of neural communication make comprehension of calcium and action potential difficult at times, but generally speaking, the relationship between calcium and action potential help initiate the process and transfer neurotransmitters from the axon terminal, or branch ending, of a neuron into the synapse.

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