The voltage dependence of I(h) in human myelinated axons

J Physiol. 2012 Apr 1;590(7):1625-40. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.225573. Epub 2012 Feb 6.


HCN channels are responsible for I(h), a voltage-gated inwardly rectifying current activated by hyperpolarization. This current appears to be more active in human sensory axons than motor and may play a role in the determination of threshold. Differences in I(h) are likely to be responsible for the high variability in accommodation to hyperpolarization seen in different subjects. The aim of this study was to characterise this current in human axons, both motor and sensory. Recordings of multiple axonal excitability properties were performed in 10 subjects, with a focus on the changes in threshold evoked by longer and stronger hyperpolarizing currents than normally studied. The findings confirm that accommodation to hyperpolarization is greater in sensory than motor axons in all subjects, but the variability between subjects was greater than the modality difference. An existing model of motor axons was modified to take into account the behaviour seen with longer and stronger hyperpolarization, and a mathematical model of human sensory axons was developed based on the data collected. The differences in behaviour of sensory and motor axons and the differences between different subjects are best explained by modulation of the voltage dependence, along with a modest increase of expression of the underlying conductance of I(h). Accommodation to hyperpolarization for the mean sensory data is fitted well with a value of -94.2 mV for the mid-point of activation (V(0.5)) of I(h) as compared to -107.3 mV for the mean motor data. The variation in response to hyperpolarization between subjects is accounted for by varying this parameter for each modality (sensory: -89.2 to -104.2 mV; motor -87.3 to -127.3 mV). These voltage differences are within the range that has been described for physiological modulation of I(h) function. The presence of slowly activated I(h) isoforms on both motor and sensory axons was suggested by modelling a large internodal leak current and a masking of the Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase pump activity by a tonic depolarization. In addition to an increased activation of I(h), the modelling suggests that in sensory axons the nodal slow K(+) conductance is reduced, with consequent depolarization of resting membrane potential, and action potential of shorter duration.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Humans
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Myelin Sheath / physiology
  • Potassium Channels / physiology
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*


  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels
  • Potassium Channels