AP Biology : Neural Physiology

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP Biology

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Understanding Action Potentials

An action potential will only be initiated if __________.

Possible Answers:

the muscle reaches the threshold potential

the neuron reaches the threshold potential

the muscle contracts

the neuron is depolarized to -60mV

a stimulus occurs

Correct answer:

the neuron reaches the threshold potential

Explanation:

Threshold potential is defined as the potential that must be reached in order for an action potential to be initiated by a neuron. Threshold potential is around -55mV in humans, which is slightly higher than the resting potential of -70mV. Once this threshold is reached, the electrical signal will propagate as the membrane depolarizes to a positive potential.

Sub-threshold stimuli, such as stimulus causing depolarization to -65mV, will not trigger action potentials. Muscle contractions can result from action potentials or provide sensory feedback, but the contractions themselves do not play a role in initiating action potentials.

Example Question #1 : Understanding Action Potentials

Electrical activity in the nervous system is transmitted by impulses known as action potentials. An action potential generally begins when a stimulus reaches the dendrites of a neuron, triggering a number of cell membrane conductivity changes. After the stimulus, there is a period of time during which no second stimulus, no matter how strong, can cause a second action potential. What is the name for this period of time?

Possible Answers:

Saltatory conduction

Absolute refractory period

Depolarization

Threshold period

Apoptosis

Correct answer:

Absolute refractory period

Explanation:

The refractory period is the span of time during which the neuron "recovers" and generally does not respond to a second stimulus as strongly as it did to the first. As the name implies, the absolute refractory period refers to the time when no stimulus, no matter how strong, can provoke a second action potential. This occurs because sodium channels, the opening of which causes depolarization, are sealed by a gating mechanism.

The relative refractory period follows the absolute refractory period. During the relative refractory period, the cell will not respond to normal stimuli, but can generate an action potential if an exceptionally large stimulus occurs. During this period the sodium channels are closed, but not sealed by the gating mechanism; they are essentially normal. The relative refractory period is caused by hyperpolarization as potassium rushes out of the cell after the action potential. Because the potential is lower than normal, only a very large stimulus can overcome the threshold.

Though threshold, saltatory conduction, and depolarization do relate to nervous system potentials, they do not refer to this specific period. Apoptosis is a completely unrelated process referring to a type of cell death.

Example Question #11 : Neural Physiology

During an action potential, why is there a hyperpolarization phase?

Possible Answers:

Voltage-gated potassium channels remain open

The sodium-potassium pump is active

Voltage-gated sodium channels remain open

Negatively charged chloride ions enter the cell to end the action potential

Correct answer:

Voltage-gated potassium channels remain open

Explanation:

At the end of an action potential, the voltage-gated potassium channels are slow to close. This allows both the normal "leaky" potassium channels and the voltage-gated potassium channels to be open simultaneously. Large amounts of potassium are able to flow down their concentration gradient, exiting the cell. The exiting of these positively charged ions results in the negative dip in cell membrane potential, known as hyperpolarization.

During hyperpolarization, voltage-gated potassium channels close and the sodium-potassium pump is activated to return the cell to the resting potential by moving potassium back into the cell, and sodium out of the cell.

Example Question #4 : Understanding Action Potentials

What does "temporal summation" mean in regards to the generation of action potentials?

Possible Answers:

Increased firing rate of an individual neuron to generate an action potential

Adding together the total amount of action potentials produced over a length of time

Activating several unique motor units to generate an action potential 

Over time neurons will produce action potentials with no stimulus

Correct answer:

Increased firing rate of an individual neuron to generate an action potential

Explanation:

Temporal summation refers to the phenomenon that an individual neuron will fire with such a high frequency that previous changes in potential have not yet normalized before a new one begins. This summative effect can cause the generation of an action potential, once the threshold potential is surpassed.

Spatial summation refers to the simultaneous activation of several unique neurons to affect another. Numerous individual inputs sum together on the target neuron to stimulate an action potential.

Example Question #1 : Understanding Action Potentials

What ion is principally responsible for triggering the threshold membrane potential?

Possible Answers:

Potassium

None of these

Sodium

Chloride

Calcium

Correct answer:

Sodium

Explanation:

The resting membrane potential is approximately –70mV, while the threshold potential is roughly –55mV. When a neuron receives a stimulus, the binding of neurotransmitters elicits small, localized influxes of sodium known as postsynaptic potentials. These small potentials must sum together in order to raise the local region of the neuron to –55mV. Once this threshold potential is reached, an action potential is generated and the neuron perpetuates the signal.

Example Question #6 : Understanding Action Potentials

Action of which of the following is directly affected in a malnourished individual?

I. Sodium and potassium leak channels

II. Sodium-potassium pump

III. Voltage-gated sodium and potassium channels

Possible Answers:

I and III

II and III

II only

III only

Correct answer:

II only

Explanation:

The question states that the person is malnourished. This means that he/she is not getting enough nutrients and energy to fuel the body, which directly affects the production of ATP. The correct answer will be a protein that requires energy to transport the molecules (active transport).

Out of the three proteins presented in the question, only one uses ATP to transport molecules: the sodium-potassium pump. It requires ATP because the pump transports sodium (Na) and potassium (K) ions against their respective concentration gradients. The leak channels and the voltage-gated channels use facilitated diffusion and the electrochemical gradients of the ions as the driving force for transport.

Eventually, as ion concentrations fluctuate in the individual, all three types of proteins may be affected, but only as an indirect consequence. Malnourishment will directly affect the available ATP, reducing functionality of the sodium-potassium pump.

Example Question #11 : Neural Physiology

The sodium-potassium pump is an example of which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Antiporter because it transports sodium and potassium ions in the same direction

Symporter because it transports sodium and potassium ions in the same direction

Antiporter because it transports sodium and potassium ions in the opposite direction

Symporter because it transports sodium and potassium ions in the opposite direction

Correct answer:

Antiporter because it transports sodium and potassium ions in the opposite direction

Explanation:

The sodium-potassium pump moves sodium to the outside of the cell and potassium to the inside of the cell. Since the pump moves the ions in opposite directions, the pump is classified as an antiporter. If the ions moved in the same direction it would be classified as a symporter.

Example Question #421 : Systems Physiology

Sodium leak channels, potassium leak channels, and sodium-potassium pumps are essential to maintaining the resting membrane potential. What is true regarding these three proteins?

Possible Answers:

Potassium leak channels move potassium ions outside the cell, whereas the sodium-potassium pump moves potassium ions inside the cell

Potassium leak channels and the sodium-potassium pump move potassium ions outside the cell

Sodium leak channels and the sodium-potassium pump move sodium ions outside the cell

Sodium leak channels move sodium ions outside the cell, whereas the sodium-potassium pump moves sodium ions inside the cell

Correct answer:

Potassium leak channels move potassium ions outside the cell, whereas the sodium-potassium pump moves potassium ions inside the cell

Explanation:

The activity of the sodium-potassium pump creates an electrochemical gradient. There are more sodium ions outside the cell and more potassium ions inside the cell. Recall from diffusion that molecules will always want to go from a region of high concentration to a region of low concentration; therefore, diffusion will drive sodium ions into the cell and potassium ions out of the cell.

However, these ions can only traverse through the cell membrane through specialized channels, called leak channels. The sodium leak channels will facilitate the movement of sodium ions into the cell and potassium leak channel will facilitate the movement of potassium ions out of the cell. The sodium-potassium pump and the leak channels move ions in opposite directions, which is why the pump requires ATP input and the leak channels are examples of passive diffusion.

Example Question #11 : Understanding Action Potentials

A particular neuron is found to have a resting membrane potential of  and a threshold stimulus of . A researcher applies the following voltages to the neuron:

On what trial does the researcher generate an action potential in the neuron?

Possible Answers:

Trial 5

Trial 4

Trial 3

The researcher is unable to generate an action potential in the neuron

Correct answer:

The researcher is unable to generate an action potential in the neuron

Explanation:

The question states that the neuron has a resting membrane potential and threshold stimulus of  and , respectively. The researcher must apply at least  of external stimulus to generate an action potential. Remember that each action potential is an all or nothing phenomenon. The neuron has to experience a single stimulus of  or higher to generate an action potential. Even though the researcher applies a cumulative external stimuli of  (sum of voltages from trials 1 through 5) the neuron will not generate an action potential during any single trial.

Example Question #11 : Understanding Action Potentials

During depolarization the sodium channels move sodium ions __________ the cell and cause the membrane potential to __________.

Possible Answers:

out of . . . increase

into . . . increase

out of . . . decrease

into . . . decrease

Correct answer:

into . . . increase

Explanation:

Depolarization is the first step in an action potential. In this step the voltage-gated sodium channels open due to an external stimulus. These channels permit rapid flow of sodium ions into the cell. This changes the polarity of the cell and causes the membrane potential to increase. The increase in membrane potential is attributed to the increased amounts of positive ions inside the cell. Recall that the membrane potential is defined as the potential inside the cell minus the potential outside the cell. An increase in positive ions inside the cell will increase the potential inside the cell and, subsequently, increase the membrane potential.

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