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Hyperpolarization is a change in a cell's membrane potential that makes it more negative. It is the opposite of a depolarization. It inhibits action potentials by increasing the stimulus required to move the membrane potential to the action potential threshold.
Hyperpolarization is often caused by efflux of K+ (a cation) through K+ channels, or influx of Cl– (an anion) through Cl– channels. On the other hand, influx of cations, e.g. Na+ through Na+ channels or Ca2+ through Ca2+ channels, inhibits hyperpolarization. If a cell has Na+ or Ca2+ currents at rest, then inhibition of those currents will also result in a hyperpolarization.
Because hyperpolarization is a change in membrane voltage, electrophysiologists measure it using current clamp techniques. In voltage clamp, the membrane currents giving rise to hyperpolarization are either an increase in outward current or a decrease in inward current.
In neurons, the cell enters a state of hyperpolarization immediately following the generation of an action potential. While hyperpolarized, the neuron is in a refractory period that lasts roughly 2 milliseconds, during which the neuron is unable to generate subsequent action potentials. Sodium-potassium ATPases redistribute K+ and Na+ ions until the membrane potential is back to its resting potential of around –70 millivolts, at which point the neuron is once again ready to transmit another action potential.