The dependence of impulse propagation speed on firing frequency, dispersion, for the Hodgkin-Huxley model

R. N. Miller, J. Rinzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Propagation speed of an impulse is influenced by previous activity. A pulse following its predecessor too closely may travel more slowly than a solitary pulse. In contrast, for some range of interspike intervals, a pulse may travel faster than normal because of a possible superexcitable phase of its predecessor's wake. Thus, in general, pulse speeds and interspike intervals will not remain constant during propagation. We consider these issues for the Hodgkin-Huxley cable equations. First, the relation between speed and frequency or interspike interval, the dispersion relation, is computed for particular solutions, steadily propagating periodic wave trains. For each frequency, omega, below some maximum frequency, omega max, we find two such solutions, one fast and one slow. The latter are likely unstable as a computational example illustrates. The solitary pulse is obtained in the limit as omega tends to zero. At high frequency, speed drops significantly below the solitary pulse speed; for 6.3 degrees C, the drop at omega max is greater than 60%. For an intermediate range of frequencies, supernormal speeds are found and these are correlated with oscillatory swings in sub- and superexcitability in the return to rest of an impulse. Qualitative consequences of the dispersion relation are illustrated with several different computed pulse train responses of the full cable equations for repetitively applied current pulses. Moreover, changes in pulse speed and interspike interval during propagation are predicted quantitatively by a simple kinematic approximation which applies the dispersion relation, instantaneously, to individual pulses. One example shows how interspike time intervals can be distorted during propagation from a ratio of 2:1 at input to 6:5 at a distance of 6.5 cm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-259
Number of pages33
JournalBiophysical journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1981

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics


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