Excitation of central nervous system neurons by nonuniform electric fields

Biophys J. 1999 Feb;76(2):878-88. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(99)77251-6.


The goal of this study was to determine which neural elements are excited by microstimulation of the central nervous system. A cable model of a neuron including an axon, initial segment, axon hillock, soma, and simplified dendritic tree was used to study excitation with an extracellular point source electrode. The model reproduced a wide range of experimentally documented extracellular excitation patterns. The site of action potential initiation (API) was a function of the electrode position, stimulus duration, and stimulus polarity. The axon or initial segment was always the site of API at threshold. When the electrode was positioned near the cell body, the site of excitation was dependent on the stimulus amplitude. With the electrode in close proximity to the neuron, short-duration cathodic pulses produced lower thresholds with the electrode positioned over the axon than over the cell body, and long-duration stimuli produced opposite relative thresholds. This result was robust to alterations in either the maximum conductances or the intracellular resistivities of the model. The site of maximum depolarization was not always an accurate predictor of the site of API, and the temporal evolution of the changes in membrane potential played a strong role in determining the site of excitation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Electric Stimulation*
  • Electrodes
  • Electrophysiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurons / physiology*