Electric fields can stimulate excitable tissue by a number of mechanisms. A uniform long, straight peripheral axon is activated by the gradient of the electric field that is oriented parallel to the fiber axis. Cortical neurons in the brain are excited when the electric field, which is applied along the axon-dendrite axis, reaches a particular threshold value. Cardiac tissue is thought to be depolarized in a uniform electric field by the curved trajectories of its fiber tracts. The bidomain model provides a coherent conceptual framework for analyzing and understanding these apparently disparate phenomena. Concepts such as the activating function and virtual anode and cathode, as well as anode and cathode break and make stimulation, are presented to help explain these excitation events in a unified manner. This modeling approach can also be used to describe the response of excitable tissues to electric fields that arise from charge redistribution (electrical stimulation) and from time-varying magnetic fields (magnetic stimulation) in a self-consistent manner. It has also proved useful to predict the behavior of excitable tissues, to test hypotheses about possible excitation mechanisms, to design novel electrophysiological experiments, and to interpret their findings.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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