|Saltatory conduction occurs only on myelinated axons.|
Saltatory conduction (from the Latin saltare, to hop or leap) is the propagation of action potentials along myelinated axons from one node of Ranvier to the next node, increasing the conduction velocity of action potentials. The uninsulated nodes of Ranvier are the only places along the axon where ions are exchanged across the axon membrane, regenerating the action potential between regions of the axon that are insulated by myelin, unlike electrical conduction in a simple circuit.
Myelinated axons only allow action potentials to occur at the unmyelinated nodes of Ranvier that occur between the myelinated internodes. It is by this restriction that saltatory conduction propagates an action potential along the axon of a neuron at rates significantly higher than would be possible in unmyelinated axons (150 m/s compared to 0.5 to 10 m/s). As sodium rushes into the node it creates an electrical force which pushes on the ions already inside the axon. This rapid conduction of electrical signal reaches the next node and creates another action potential, thus refreshing the signal. In this manner, saltatory conduction allows electrical nerve signals to be propagated long distances at high rates without any degradation of the signal. Although the action potential appears to jump along the axon, this phenomenon is actually just the rapid, almost instantaneous, conduction of the signal inside the myelinated portion of the axon. If the entire surface of an axon were insulated, there would be no place for current to flow out of the axon and action potentials could not be generated.
In addition to increasing the speed of the nerve impulse, the myelin sheath helps in reducing energy expenditure over the axon membrane as a whole, because the amount of sodium and potassium ions that need to be pumped to bring the concentrations back to the resting state following each action potential is decreased.
Saltatory conduction occurs widely in the myelinated nerve fibers of vertebrates, but was later discovered in a pair of medial myelinated giant fibers of Fenneropenaeus chinensis and Marsupenaeus japonicus shrimp, as well as in a median giant fiber of an earthworm. Saltatory conduction has also been found in the small- and medium-sized myelinated fibers of Penaeus shrimp.