Larger axons usually have faster conduction velocities, lower thresholds, and larger extracellular action potentials than smaller axons. However, it has been shown that the largest fiber, R2, in the right pleurovisceral connective of the marine mollusc, Aplysia, has a higher threshold and a slower conduction velocity than does the smaller axon of cell R1, even though the amplitude of R2's spike is larger than R1's spike. One explanation of this apparent paradox is that the two axons have different “intrinsic membrane and axoplasmic constants” (Goldman, L. (1961), J. Cell Comp. Physiol. 57: 185–191). However, the deep infolding of R2's axonal membrane suggested that differences in the shape of the two axons might also account for the paradox. Accordingly, we measured the conduction velocities of the two axons and then examined the same axons in the electron microscope in order to measure their volumes and surface areas. Our morphological observations indicate that the extensive infolding of surface membrane causes R2 to have a smaller volume to surface area ratio than R1. Thus, since conduction velocity is proportional to the square root of the volume to surface area ratio (Hodgkin, A. L. (1954), J. Physiol. 125: 221–224), it is predictable that the smaller axon would have a faster conduction velocity. The results suggest that the paradoxical conduction velocities can be explained largely as resulting from differences in the shapes of the two axons. However, certain discrepancies between the measured and the predicted values suggest that other factors are contributing as well.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience