Computational models of nerve conduction

ANU Bee Lab

Nerve impulses travel along neurons via the movement of ions into and along neurons through ion channels whose coordinated opening, inactivation and closing results in the progression of the action potential along the cell. The flux of ions through ion channels is determined by their expression, density and localisation within the membrane; open probabilities; mean open time and the conductance of the single channel. Modifications of any of these properties, such as created by disease causing mutations or the actions of drugs, will alter the progression of the action potential. A computational model that can relate the physical characteristics of the channels and the morphology of the cell to the propagation of the action potential will have great value in understanding the fundamental principles involved in electrical signalling, describing disease states and profiling the required characteristics of therapeutic agents. Existing models of AP propagation utilise 1D cable theory and cannot represent the 3D morphology of the cell, cannot include the localised ion concentrations or model small compartments and involve many approximations including fixing the equilibrium potential of each ion type. This project aims to create a physically based 3D model that avoids the simplifications of cable models. The project will involve coding efficient parallelised programs that can calculate the electrical properties of cells over time, and will appeal to anyone that wants to use computer science to understand the physical basis of neuroscience.