The large number of ion channels found in all nervous systems poses fundamental questions concerning how the characteristic intrinsic properties of single neurons are determined by the specific subsets of channels they express. All neurons display many different ion channels with overlapping voltage- and time-dependent properties. We speculate that these overlapping properties promote resilience in neuronal function. Individual neurons of the same cell type show variability in ion channel conductance densities even though they can generate reliable and similar behavior. This complicates a simple assignment of function to any conductance and is associated with variable responses of neurons of the same cell type to perturbations, deletions, and pharmacological manipulation. Ion channel genes often show strong positively correlated expression, which may result from the molecular and developmental rules that determine which ion channels are expressed in a given cell type.
Keywords: calcium channels; conductance-based models; homeostasis; intrinsic excitability; potassium channels; robustness.