The Hodgkin–Huxley model, or conductance-based model, is a mathematical model that describes how action potentials in neurons are initiated and propagated. It is a set of nonlinear differential equations that approximates the electrical characteristics of excitable cells such as neurons and cardiac myocytes. It is a continuous-time dynamical system.
Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley described the model in 1952 to explain the ionic mechanisms underlying the initiation and propagation of action potentials in the squid giant axon. They received the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this work.
The typical Hodgkin–Huxley model treats each component of an excitable cell as an electrical element (as shown in the figure). The lipid bilayer is represented as a capacitance (Cm). Voltage-gated ion channels are represented by electrical conductances (gn, where n is the specific ion channel) that depend on both voltage and time. Leak channels are represented by linear conductances (gL). The electrochemical gradients driving the flow of ions are represented by voltage sources (En) whose voltages are determined by the ratio of the intra- and extracellular concentrations of the ionic species of interest. Finally, ion pumps are represented by current sources (Ip).[clarification needed] The membrane potential is denoted by Vm.
Mathematically, the current flowing through the lipid bilayer is written as
where I is the total membrane current per unit area, Cm is the membrane capacitance per unit area, gK and gNa are the potassium and sodium conductances per unit area, respectively, VK and VNa are the potassium and sodium reversal potentials, respectively, and gl and Vl are the leak conductance per unit area and leak reversal potential, respectively. The time dependent elements of this equation are Vm, gNa, and gK, where the last two conductances depend explicitly on voltage as well.
Using a series of voltage clamp experiments and by varying extracellular sodium and potassium concentrations, Hodgkin and Huxley developed a model in which the properties of an excitable cell are described by a set of four ordinary differential equations. Together with the equation for the total current mentioned above, these are:
In order to characterize voltage-gated channels, the equations are fit to voltage clamp data. For a derivation of the Hodgkin–Huxley equations under voltage-clamp, see. Briefly, when the membrane potential is held at a constant value (i.e., voltage-clamp), for each value of the membrane potential the nonlinear gating equations reduce to equations of the form:
In order to arrive at the complete solution for a propagated action potential, one must write the current term I on the left-hand side of the first differential equation in terms of V, so that the equation becomes an equation for voltage alone. The relation between I and V can be derived from cable theory and is given by
where a is the radius of the axon, R is the specific resistance of the axoplasm, and x is the position along the nerve fiber. Substitution of this expression for I transforms the original set of equations into a set of partial differential equations, because the voltage becomes a function of both x and t.
While the original experiments treated only sodium and potassium channels, the Hodgkin–Huxley model can also be extended to account for other species of ion channels.
The membrane potential depends upon the maintenance of ionic concentration gradients across it. The maintenance of these concentration gradients requires active transport of ionic species. The sodium-potassium and sodium-calcium exchangers are the best known of these. Some of the basic properties of the Na/Ca exchanger have already been well-established: the stoichiometry of exchange is 3 Na+: 1 Ca2+ and the exchanger is electrogenic and voltage-sensitive. The Na/K exchanger has also been described in detail, with a 3 Na+: 2 K+ stoichiometry.
A better projection can be constructed from a careful analysis of the Jacobian of the system, evaluated at the equilibrium point. Specifically, the eigenvalues of the Jacobian are indicative of the center manifold's existence. Likewise, the eigenvectors of the Jacobian reveal the center manifold's orientation. The Hodgkin–Huxley model has two negative eigenvalues and two complex eigenvalues with slightly positive real parts. The eigenvectors associated with the two negative eigenvalues will reduce to zero as time t increases. The remaining two complex eigenvectors define the center manifold. In other words, the 4-dimensional system collapses onto a 2-dimensional plane. Any solution starting off the center manifold will decay towards the center manifold. Furthermore, the limit cycle is contained on the center manifold.
The Hodgkin–Huxley model is regarded as one of the great achievements of 20th-century biophysics. Nevertheless, modern Hodgkin–Huxley-type models have been extended in several important ways:
Several simplified neuronal models have also been developed (such as the FitzHugh–Nagumo model), facilitating efficient large-scale simulation of groups of neurons, as well as mathematical insight into dynamics of action potential generation.