045 The Pacemaker Potential of the SA Node and the AV Node

In this episode, Leslie talks about how a pacemaker potential can cause a heart to beat automatically. Details about how it is generated is discussed in this video. Just how does this happen, our heart beating again and again?

Watch to learn more. Have fun and enjoy!

Transcript of Today’s Episode

Hello and welcome to another episode of Interactive-Biology TV where we’re making Biology fun. My name is Leslie Samuel and in this episode, Episode 45, I’m going to be talking about the pacemaker potential of the S.A. node and the A.V. node. We’re basically going to look at how this results in the heart beating automatically. So, let’s get right into it.

Let’s first talk about the S.A. node. The S.A. node stands for the sinoatrial node and you can see it in this figure over here, it is number one. That’s this cluster of cells. It is basically a specialized group of cardiac muscle cells that don’t contract which is kind of strange. They’re muscle cells and they don’t actually contract.

But, what’s special about these cells is that they are adapted to automatically generate impulses. So, it can automatically cause signals that can spread throughout the heart, causing the heart to beat. The S.A. node functions as the pacemaker of the heart. Yes, we have the A.V. node and some other stuff that we are going to talk about but, these generates signals faster than any of the others so, it sets the pace for the heartbeat.

As you can see, it is located in the right atrium. So, now let’s talk about the A.V. node.

The A.V. node is number two. So, it’s this cluster of cells here and it stands for the atrioventricular node. It is similar in function to the S.A. node in that it automatically generates impulses and it is located between the atria and the ventricles hence the name, atrioventricular node. Let’s go back to the S.A. node and see how this results in the pacemaker potential.

Before we look at that, I just want to point out that we have, in addition to the S.A. node and the A.V. node, we have some fibers that extend from the A.V. node and spread throughout the ventricle and those fibers are called Purkinje fibers. These are also very important in that they spread that signal throughout the rest of the ventricle. Let’s talk about the S.A node.

We said that that functions as a pacemaker. So, we are going to look at the pacemaker cells that we have in the S.A. node. What is special about these cells is that normally, there’s a significantly higher conductance for sodium than there is for potassium. Now, if you go back to Episode 006, I talk about Donnan equilibrium and driving force and I show how there’s normally a driving force for sodium to rush into the cell. I also show that potassium wants to leave the cell.

Because the cell is much more permeable to sodium, we’re going to have a situation where there’s much more sodium coming in than potassium leaving. Because we have more positives going in than leaving, what we’re going to get is a pacemaker potential where the cell normally depolarizes. Then, when it reaches the threshold, something interesting happens. Yes, we have the sodium rushing in and some potassium leaving but, now that we’ve reached the threshold, voltage-gated calcium channels open and calcium is going to rush into the cell.

So, we’re going to get this rapid depolarization. In other words, we’re going to get an action potential. At the peak, we’re going to get a different situation where, yes, we have sodium coming in and potassium leaving but, voltage-gated potassium channels are going to open so that the conductance for potassium increases significantly and potassium is going to rush out of the cell repolarizing the membrane.

At that point, we still have the sodium that’s coming in and the voltage-gated potassium channels close so, we have the initial situation where sodium is rushing into the cell, causing this depolarization then, the same thing happens. It reaches the threshold, voltage-gated calcium channels open depolarizing the cell membrane once again, causing that impulse. Voltage-gated potassium channels open causing potassium to rush out of the cell again.

This process continues over and over and over. What ends up happening is we have this automatic signal that’s generated constantly resulting in the contraction of the heart. This causes the heart to beat. It’s really that straightforward but, the main idea is that the cells in the S.A. node have a significantly higher conductance for sodium so it continuously depolarizes causing that impulse that causes the heart to beat.

That’s really all I want to talk about in this video. As usual, you can visit the website at Interactive-Biology.com for more Biology videos and other resources to help make Biology fun.

This is Leslie Samuel. That’s it for this video and I’ll see you on the next one.


  1. Zaur Molotnikov October 7, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    How can K+ only leave and never enter?


  2. lamkelvin19941117 October 23, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    Na+/K+pump allows K+ enter and Na+ leave


  3. lamkelvin19941117 October 23, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    Na+/K+pump allows K+ enter and Na+ leave


  4. Kathy Le October 31, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

    since there’s a higher concentration of K+ inside the membrane then outside, when K+ channels open, K+ will rush out because ions always move from higher concentrations to lower concentrations. The Na+/K+ pump then uses ATP to pump 2 K+ inside the membrane while pumping 3 Na+ outside so that a high concentration of K+ on the inside, and high concentration of Na+ on the outside will be maintained. This also makes the inside of the membrane negative again and return it to a resting potential.


  5. Aaron Bell November 8, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Amazing, in human physiology this semester so this is helpful.


  6. Eimear Short November 20, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    I was taught that there are no functional Sodium ion channels in pacemaker
    cells, is this wrong?


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