Nerve signals may be shock wave riders

Wired has a good break down of theory that says that nerve cells don’t work on electricity as we assume, but instead transmit signals using pressure waves, and crucially, this might explain how anaesthetics work.

The idea that nerve cells send their signals as pressure waves is not brand new. Known as the Soliton model, it was first published in 2005 by Drs Andrew Jackson and Thomas Heimburg and was thought a bit of a curiosity.

It challenges the model of nerve cell functioning that was developed by Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley, both of whom won the Nobel prize for their work.

Their discovery was that nerve cells can be understood as electrical circuits and that the transmission of nerve signals or action potentials can be described using a simple elegant mathematical formula.

This formula describes how nerve cells work remarkably well and is still the basis of much modern neuroscience.

So suggesting that the Hodgkin-Huxley model is wrong is likely to piss a lot of people off, and that’s exactly what the Soliton model has done.

However, this new paper suggests it could explain how anaesthetics work, which is one of the mysteries of modern neuroscience.

It’s a totally left-field idea, but if it works out, it would be a revolution in both neuroscience and medicine.

Link to Wired article on application of the Soliton model to anaesethics.
Link to 2005 scientific paper on the Soliton model.

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