Introduction to Neurobiology

Course Number: 
Course Type: 
Currently Offered: 
Instructor (non-MCB Faculty): 
Sherk, Helen
Course Description: 

Systems level survey of vertebrate system, focusing on sensory system, on motor system, and on neuroanatomy. Lectures cover topics in sensory and motor systems. Laboratory includes brain dissection and study of intact, prosected, and sectioned brain and spinal cord. Emphasis is on human nervous system.

Learning Objectives: 
Module 1: Neuroanatomy  Learn the following:
  1. The major divisions of the CNS, including cortical lobes, parts of brainstem, spinal cord, and ventricles.  Know how these vary across vertebrate classes.
  2. The basic pathways (tracts, nuclei, and other structures) associated with each sensory system, from primary receptor to cerebral cortex.  
  3. The major descending motor control pathways from motor cortex and brainstem nuclei.  
  4. The cortico-cerebellar loop.
  5. The functional and anatomical subdivisions of the basal ganglia, and the two major pathways that connect them.
  6. Cranial nerves and cranial nerve nuclei, and their external targets and functions. Be able to identify the grossly visible components of the above structures and pathways in human brains, both in surface views and in frontal and horizontal sections.
  7. Consider theories explaining the huge variation in brain size across vertebrates, including purported relationships between brain size and intelligience, diet, and metabolic rate.
Module 2: Sensory Systems  For each sensory system covered in depth (olfactory, gustatory, auditory, visual, somatosensory, vestibular), learn:
  1. The role of non-neural structures in aiding stimulus transduction.
  2. Transduction mechanisms.
  3. Response properties of neurons at each stage of the sensory pathway, and how they relate to information processing.
  4. Organizational schemes peculiar to each sensory system.
  5. The relationship between primary receptor activity and perception.
  6. The role of high level cortical areas in special abilities such as face recognition.
Module 3: Motor Systems Key topics to understand:
  1. Properties of muscle fibers and mechanisms of contraction.
  2. Relationship between alpha motor neurons and muscle, and the characteristics of three kinds of motor unit.
  3. The size principle in motor recruitment.
  4. Spinal reflexes and the role of proprioceptors.
  5. Functional characteristics of different components of the basal ganglia, and how they work together to permit or prevent movement.
  6. Oculomotor system, including extraocular muscles and their motor nuclei, and the systems that control these nuclei, including cerebral cortex, superior colliculus, and cerebellum.
  7. The role of the cerebellum in motor plasticity.
Course requirements, examinations and grading: 

There will be three exams in this course, all equally weighted.  Although the last exam will be due at the time scheduled for the final exam, all three exams count equally.  The first will be at the end of the sensory module, and will cover sensory systems.  The second will be in the next-to-last week of the course, and will cover neuroanatomy.  It will have a practical as well as a written component (i.e., a "pin-test" portion), and will cover material presented in lab and in lecture.  The third exam will cover motor systems, and will be a take-home exam.  For the first and third exams, questions will be based primarily on lecture material. 

Course web site:

Sample Schedule:
Week Mon Weds Thurs (lab) Fri
  1 Neuroanatomy survey 1 Neuroanatomy survey 2 Human brain

Neuroanatomy survey 3

Chemical senses 1

  2 Chemical senses 2 Chemical senses 3 Dissection of sheep brain

Visual system: Eye and retina 1

Visual system: Eye and retina 2

  3   Visual system: LGN and primary visual cortex Dissection of sheep brain

Visual system: Extrastriate cortex 1

Visual system: Extrastriate cortex 2

  4 Visual system: brainstem Somatosensory system: Receptors and sensation Human brain

Somatosensory system: Maps and plasticity

Somatosensory system: Pain

  5 Auditory 1 Auditory 2 Human brain

Auditory 3

Auditory: higher functions & language

  6 Motor system 1 Motor system 2 Human brain

EXAM 1, sensory system

  7   Motor system 3 Human brain

Motor system 4

Motor system 5

  8 Motor system 6 Motor system 7 Human brain

Motor system 8

Motor system 9

  9 Motor system 10 Motor system 11 EXAM 2, neuroanatomy

Motor system 12

Motor system 13

 10 Motor system 14 Motor system 15 Human brain

Motor system 16

Motor system 17

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