Previous electron microscope studies have shown that the Schwann cell layer is traversed by long and tortuous slit-like channels ∼60Å wide, which provide the major route of access to the axolemma surface. In the present work the restriction offered by the resting axolemma to the passage of six small non-electrolyte molecules has been determined. The radii of the probing molecules were estimated from constructed molecular models. The ability of the axolemma to discriminate between the solvent (water) and each probing molecule was expressed in terms of the reflection coefficient σ. σ was then used to calculate an effective pore size for the resting axolemma. The value of 4.25 Å found for the pore radius is in excellent agreement with the 1.5 to 8.5 Å limiting values previously calculated from our measurements of water fluxes. The presence of pores with 4.25 Å radius in the resting axolemma is compatible with restricted diffusion of Na. The present paper leads to the conclusion that the axolemma is the only continuous barrier across which the ionic gradient responsible for the normal functioning of the nerve can be maintained. The combined findings of electron microscopy, water permeability, and molecular restricted filtration indicate that in all probability the axolemma is the "excitable membrane" of the physiologists.

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