Adding NaCl elicits an action potential because you increase the concentration of sodium ions outside the cell, thus increasing the cell's equilibrium potential of sodium ions and creating a concentration gradient. Due to the buildup of these ions, the cell's membrane is depolarized and membrane proteins called voltage-gated sodium channels are activated which allow rapid influx of sodium ions into the cell. This causes the local potential of the cell to rise. This change in potential activates nearby sodium-potassium channels to repeat the process, thus generating an action potential.
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