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In physiology, an action potential is a short-lasting event in which the electrical membrane potential of a cell rapidly rises and falls, following a consistent trajectory. Action potentials occur in several types of animal cells, called excitable cells, which include neurons, muscle cells, and endocrine cells, as well as in some plant cells. In neurons, they play a central role in cell-to-cell communication. In other types of cells, their main function is to activate intracellular processes. In muscle cells, for example, an action potential is the first step in the chain of events leading to contraction. In beta cells of the pancreas, they provoke release of insulin. Action potentials in neurons are also known as "nerve impulses" or "spikes", and the temporal sequence of action potentials generated by a neuron is called its "spike train". A neuron that emits an action potential is often said to "fire".

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1. the local voltage change across the cell wall as a nerve impulse is transmitted
(hypernym) nerve impulse, impulse

propagated change of the membrane potential of a nerve or muscle cell. If the membrane is depolarized (its inside made more positive) to threshold, a sudden influx of sodium ions occurs that makes the membrane potential transiently positive. It becomes negative again by an outflux of potassium ions.

An abrupt, transient change in the electrical charge along a heart muscle cell membrane; the first of several steps leading to the cell’s contraction.

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