Metabolic cost as a unifying principle governing neuronal biophysics

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jul 6;107(27):12329-34. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0914886107. Epub 2010 Jun 23.


The brain contains an astonishing diversity of neurons, each expressing only one set of ion channels out of the billions of potential channel combinations. Simple organizing principles are required for us to make sense of this abundance of possibilities and wealth of related data. We suggest that energy minimization subject to functional constraints may be one such unifying principle. We compared the energy needed to produce action potentials singly and in trains for a wide range of channel densities and kinetic parameters and examined which combinations of parameters maximized spiking function while minimizing energetic cost. We confirmed these results for sodium channels using a dynamic current clamp in neocortical fast spiking interneurons. We find further evidence supporting this hypothesis in a wide range of other neurons from several species and conclude that the ion channels in these neurons minimize energy expenditure in their normal range of spiking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Kinetics
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Potassium Channels / physiology
  • Sodium / metabolism
  • Sodium Channels / physiology
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / metabolism


  • Ion Channels
  • Potassium Channels
  • Sodium Channels
  • Sodium
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase
  • Potassium