Conduction in Myelinated Axons
The myelin sheath provides insulation for the axon preventing movements of Na+ and K+ through the membrane. Therefore, if this myelin sheath was continuous no action potential would be generated. Fortunately, gaps or nodes of Ranvier occur in the myelin. Since the cable properties of axon can conduct depolarisations over very short distance (1-2 mm), the nodes of Ranvier must be close together (actually they are 1 mm apart). Studies have shown that the Na+ channels are concentrated at the nodes and absent from the regions between two nodes. Action potential therefore occurs only at the nodes of Ranvier and seems to leap from node to node. This is called saltatory conduction. The spread of depolarisation between the nodes is very fast and fewer action potentials are needed. Therefore, the rate of conduction is much faster than in unmyelinated fibres.
This peculiar structure and mode of conduction in myelinated fibres is responsible for the fast conduction of impulses in motor nerves of vertebrates even though the nerves are very thin. The greatest advantage of myelinated fibres comes from their smaller size and so a highly complex nervous system with high conduction velocities can occur without occupying too much of space.