ENGR 093: Biomedical Directed Reading Spring 2004  
Home Hodgkin and Huxley's work Biology History Table of Units References


This is an outline of the work that preceeded Hodgkin and Huxley as well as some of Hodgkin and Huxley's original hypothesis'.

In 1902, Julius Bernstien, a German physiologist, came up with a hypothesis for how neurons work. His hypothesis basically stated that the resting potential of a nerve cells was due to a concentration potential to potassium ions. Sodium ions were not involved. Excitation was due to a change in the permeability of the membrane to allow all ions to flow freely across the membrane, dropping the membrane potential to zero.

In the 1930’s two scientists, Cole and Curtis found that the change in impedance in the nerve cell membrane was due to a large drop in the resistance in parallel with the membrane capacity, suggesting that a change in membrane potential did occur. It also became clear through their experimentation that this drop in resistance in the membrane took place without drastically changing the basic structure of the membrane. Measurements for this experiment were made using an AC bridge.

In the course of their experimentation, Cole and Curtis made some observations that would later confound Hodgkin and Huxley when they came up with their sodium ion model. The first observation was that Cole and Curtis displayed a rather large action potential in their paper, with an overshoot greater than 100mV. This overshoot far exceeds the sodium equilibrium potential. The second observation was that the amplitude of the action potential did not noticeably change in a low sodium environment. However, after there was no confirmation of these two observations, Hodgkin and Huxley were able to conclude that it must have been an artifact of overcompensation for the high frequency response of the electrical recording circuit, and not an accurate representation of an action potential.

Andrew Hulxey was born in November 1917 in London, England. His father is Thomas Huxley and his brother is Aldous Huxley (writer of Brave New World). Alan Hodgkin was born in Feburary 1914 in Oxfordshire, England. Hodgkin started by studying frog nervous physiology with Cole in 1937. In August 1939, Huxley and Hodgkin began to work together, studying squid giant axons. However, World War II postponed their work. Huxley ended up serving in the war doing operations research in gunnery in the Anti-Aircraft Command and the Admiralty. Hodgkin working in aviation medicine as well as airborne radar. After the war, Hodgkin and Huxley continued the work they had started in 1939, eventually coming up with a mathmatical model of an action potential. In 1963, Hodgkin and Huxley won the Noble Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their work on the action potential.



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