Cellular Neurobiology


This module examines current progress on the understanding of central nervous system development and function based upon the exploitation of anatomical, genetic, molecular and advanced physiological techniques. The physiology and molecular biology of neurons is examined. These topics will be covered: how neuorons work; synaptic transmission and plasticity, and the techniques to record it; how the brain works; how all the above are grounded on nervous system development.

We will pay particular attention to cellular, genetic and molecular mechanisms.. Most if not all mechanisms that give rise to the nervous system are conserved in all animals, but they were often discovered using model organisms. Thus, we will compare findings from the fruit-fly Drosophila, the worm C.elegans and vertebrate models like birds and rodents.

These mechanisms include cell fate (e.g. neuronal or glial) determination, regulation of growth, adjustment of neuronal and glial cell number through the control of cell survival and cell proliferation, axon guidance and targeting, formation of topographic maps in the brain, synapse formation and elimination structural plasticity, learning and memory. Structure enables brain function, which in turn influences brain structure.

Thus,. we will look at how when things go wrong, these same principles and mechanisms result in brain disease. Conversely, we will explore how developmental mechanisms can be used to promote brain health, and regeneration and repair upon injury or disease. Thus we will look at brain diseases, e.g. neurodegenerative diseases, depression and spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, etc., and current therapeutic approaches on how to treat or mend the diseased or damaged CNS. Throughout these topics, we will look at how technological innovation has driven progress, and will explore cutting-edge techniques, such as optogenetics to stimulate neurons with light, and stem cell transplantations to mend the diseased brain.

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • Understand and explain the mechanisms of synaptic transmission and synaptic plasticity and electrophysiological techniques for study of nerve cell function
  • Understand and explain the cellular and genetic bases of neural circuits and how they drive behaviour.
  • Understand and explain the fundamental principles of cognition
  • Understand and explain the genetic, molecular and cellular mechanisms of nervous system development.
  • Know how to present scientific data
  • Assess primary information from the scientific literature and make evidence-grounded decisions on scientific work.
  • Demonstrate an awareness of the research literature underpinning advances in areas relevant to the module
  • Demonstrate creativity, initiative and independence in learning.


In-course assessment (30%) comprising:

  • 'Be a referrre’ review of a paper following the reviewer guidelines set by a journal. Written report approx. 2000 words (20%)
  • 'Be an Editor' assessing the reviews of other students. Written report maximum 1000 words plus a 10 minute oral presentation in fron of the class (10%)
  • 3 hour written examination (70%)