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Phys Biol. 2014 Aug 26;11(5):051001. doi: 10.1088/1478-3975/11/5/051001.

A quantitative overview of biophysical forces impinging on neural function.

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  • 1Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, USA. School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, Virginia Tech, USA.


The fundamentals of neuronal membrane excitability are globally described using the Hodgkin-Huxley (HH) model. The HH model, however, does not account for a number of biophysical phenomena associated with action potentials or propagating nerve impulses. Physical mechanisms underlying these processes, such as reversible heat transfer and axonal swelling, have been compartmentalized and separately investigated to reveal neuronal activity is not solely influenced by electrical or biochemical factors. Instead, mechanical forces and thermodynamics also govern neuronal excitability and signaling. To advance our understanding of neuronal function and dysfunction, compartmentalized analyses of electrical, chemical, and mechanical processes need to be revaluated and integrated into more comprehensive theories. The present perspective is intended to provide a broad overview of biophysical forces that can influence neural function, but which have been traditionally underappreciated in neuroscience. Further, several examples where mechanical forces have been shown to exert their actions on nervous system development, signaling, and plasticity are highlighted to underscore their importance in sculpting neural function. By considering the collective actions of biophysical forces influencing neuronal activity, our working models can be expanded and new paradigms can be applied to the investigation and characterization of brain function and dysfunction.

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