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NST Part IB Neurobiology

Neurobiology is the result of an interdepartmental collaboration between three departments:

  • Physiology, Development & Neuroscience
  • Psychology
  • Zoology

 

The course aims to give a contemporary account of what is widely believed to be the biggest question facing science: how does the brain allow us to perceive and interact with the world, and what causes these processes to go wrong? We know that even "simpler" nervous systems outperform the most advanced computing and robotic systems, but we are unsure why. The need to address these questions is evidenced by the current "big science" projects funded by the European Union (the billion Euro "Human Brain Project") and the US government (the billion dollar "BRAIN project").

Timetable

There are three lectures each week, on Thursday, Saturday and Tuesday, at 12 noon, delivered in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre (a few lectures at the end of Michaelmas are at 1.00pm; check the course timetable).

In addition there are practical classes each week, organized as one session of 3 hours (on either Thursday or Tuesday afternoon, 2–5 pm). You should have been allocated to one each of these sessions at the NST IB registration; if not, please contact Mr Howard Davies (hgd21@cam.ac.uk) in the Histology Classroom of the Physiology Building, Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience.

Lectures

The lecture course begins at the cellular and molecular level with the electrical and chemical properties of individual neurons. It then turns to synaptic transmission between neurons. The rest of the Michaelmas term examines the major sensory systems in turn, starting with hearing, then vision, olfaction and taste, and finally somatosensation and pain. In the Lent Term the motor system is explored in detail, including sensorimotor integration, followed by lectures on the development of the nervous system: the origins of neuronal types and neuronal architecture, and the way that connections between neurons develop and are regulated.  Attention then turns to mechanisms of motivation and emotion, and consideration of synaptic modification and its role in maturation of the nervous system, response to injury and memory. The Easter term lectures are devoted to language, learning, memory and higher functions of the nervous system. 

Practical classes

A wide range of experimental techniques and approaches will be explored in the practical classes. These include computer simulations of neurons and synapses; hearing, vision and somatosensation; neural development in zebra fish and C. elegans model systems; human motor function; electrophysiological recordings from insect nerves; human brain anatomy and histology; brain imaging; and neuropsychological assessment. The practical classes provide hands-on experience of experimental techniques used in neurobiology including microscopy and neuronal staining methods, electrophysiology (including electrical stimulation and recordings of your own nerves and muscles), optogenetics, and cognitive assessment. 
 
Most of the practical classes are held in either the Experimental Class­room or the Histology Classroom in the Physiology Building, but some are held in classrooms in other departments where the appropriate apparatus is available.

Detailed information is available for staff and current students on Moodle including the course handbook, lecture and practical timetables, lecture handouts and the practical books.

Examination 

The examination comprises two written papers and a practical examination, as follows:

  • (50%) a 3-hour paper, requiring 4 essay answers from 10 questions
  • (25%) a 1-hour paper, 20 short-answer questions
  • (25%) a 1½-hour practical examination 
Lecture and practical handouts will be available on Moodle.

Contacts

Course Organisers: Dr David Parker, Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience (djp27@cam.ac.uk)

Registration for Moodle: at practical registration

Practical registration and Handouts: Mr Howard Davies (hgd21@cam.ac.uk), Histology Classroom, Physiology Building, Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience