The electrotonic potential travels via electrotonic spread, which amounts to simple diffusion of the ions down their electrochemical gradient within the cell. If sodium ions enter via a single channel in a dendrite, they are in higher concentration at that location and therefore spread out into the lower concentration areas, bringing with them their positive charge. Electrotonic potentials can sum spatially or temporally. Spatial summation is the combination of multiple sources of ion influx (multiple channels within a dendrite, or channels within multiple dendrites), where temporal summation is a gradual increase in overall charge due to repeated influxes in the same location. Because the ionic charge enters in one location and dissipates to others, losing intensity as it spreads, electrotonic spread is a graded response. It is important to contrast this with the all-or-none propagation of the action potential down the axon of the neuron.
Electrotonic spread is generally responsible for increasing the voltage of the soma (neuronal cell body) sufficiently to exceed threshold and trigger the action potential; its summation properties described above make it suitable for integrating input from many different sources. Such input may be depolarizing (positive charge, such as sodium) or hyperpolarizing (negative charge, such as chloride).
Electrotonic potentials are conducted faster than action potentials, but attenuate rapidly so are unsuitable for long-distance signaling.