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NBIO 722-723:
722: Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience
723: Systems and Translational Neuroscience
(Cross listed as PHYI and PHCO 722-723)

Course Director: Jay Brenman, PhD

Course Description

Purpose of the course:

The purpose of this course in Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience is to explore the experimental and theoretical basis for our current concepts of nervous system function. The course runs as a series of three Blocks in the fall semester and three Blocks in the spring semester. This is NOT a survey course in neurobiology. The goals of the course are not so much to inform as to foster an understanding of how we accumulate our knowledge and hypotheses; not to provide a complete textbook picture of the functioning nervous system as we know it today, but to provide the intellectual tools and skills to evaluate current and future hypotheses; not so much to provide answers to questions as to attempt to define the unanswered questions.

In order to create a climate for active discussion and exploration of ideas, each Block is limited to 18 students. Priority is given to (1) students entering the Neuroscience Curriculum, as they are required to take the entire course, and to (2) students from departments affiliated with the course and who intend to register for all six Blocks of the course. Students should acquaint themselves with the course description and schedule and, if they are willing to take on the responsibilities of the course, email Sue Modlin for permission to enroll; Sue will contact the Course Director. The email should state for how many Blocks the student intends to register and why he or she wants to take the course.

Neuroscience as an experimental and health science:
We strive to enhance the development of our graduate students not only as experimentalists, but also as health professionals who are cognizant of the diseases that affect our society. Thus, an entire block of the required course is devoted to disease mechanisms. In addition a number of our students take additional training in translational science in an HHMI funded “Grad-to-Med” training program.

Competencies that we aim to achieve related to experimental science include:

  • Knowledge and application of the scientific method.
  • Determination of the accuracy and validity of scientific results.
  • Understanding of the methodology of measurements conducted in biological systems
  • Proficiency with the interpretation of both qualitative and quantitative experimental data.
  • Exposure and training in scientific ethics and rigor and reproducibility as applied to the neurosciences.

Competencies that we aim to achieve related to health science include:

  • Understanding the impact of neurobiological disease on health and society.
  • Understanding the importance of translational research bridging the basic and clinical sciences.

Teaching methods:
Instructors in NBIO 722 and 723 achieve these goals using a variety of teaching methods to convey core information as well as to shape students’ scientific thinking and perspective. Students are instructed using a variety of active learning techniques.

  • Didactic instruction: Lectures serve to convey and synthesize a body of complex material. While didactic lectures are usually perceived as a passive teaching tool, this does not have be to be case (Hansen, 2002, Richardson, 2008). To engage students and encourage discussion, we limit enrollment to approximately 18 students (a few non-NBIO students can enroll with permission). Most students must take all 6 blocks so faculty and students get to know each other well. Faculty continually encourage discussion by asking students to address limitations related to the current state of the literature.
  • Paper based discussions: Paper based discussion is used throughout to immerse students in the primary literature as well as to give students training in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of original investigations. The class is broken into year long small groups. Groups take turns presenting papers while the rest of the class critiques and asks questions related to the study. Importantly, paper based discussion counts toward students’ final grades.
  • Workshops and group projects: In the first block, workshops and group projects are designed to provide background knowledge and to actively engage students. One example is a planned module centered on the Allen Brain Atlas. Working in small groups, students will be assigned genes implicated in neurobiological disorders. Students will then examine gene expression profiles, research neuroanatomical connectivity between genetically defined cell types, and design experiments to manipulate gene expression or neural circuit activity within these defined cell populations.
  • Problem sets: In many of the blocks, problem sets are handed out as homework assignments to actively engage students and further reinforce material.
  • Open Book Exams: Blocks end in an open book, take-home exam. Exam questions often ask students to design an experiment of set of experiments to address a particular hypothesis, complete with controls and a discussion of feasibility (as one must do in preparing a grant application). In addition to testing knowledge of block material, the exams encourage students to develop elegance and clarity in writing.

BLOCK 1 – Neuroscience Bootcamp: Introduction to Techniques Used in Studying the Nervous System/Electrical Signaling Because the students taking the Core course have diverse backgrounds, this block is divided into two sections.

Block 1a: Neuroscience Bootcamp: Introduction to Techniques Used in Studying the Nervous System Because the students taking the Core course have diverse backgrounds, the first block serves as an introduction to neurobiology as well as an overview of many of the techniques students will encounter while reading materials and papers for the rest of the course. Examples of topics covered include statistics and hypothesis testing, biochemistry, molecular biology and genetic engineering, confocal microscopy, and functional anatomy of the rodent brain.

Block 1b: Electrical Signaling This block introduces materials related to electrical excitability of neurons. Topics include ion channels, membrane potentials, generation and propagation of action potentials, dendritic excitability, and computational neuroscience as it relates to electrical signaling of neurons, referred to as the “ephys” block (electrophsyiology).

BLOCK 2 – Synaptic Transmission and Intracellular Signaling This block focuses on neurotransmitter signaling through distinct receptor subclasses. Topics include G-protein coupled receptors and associated signaling, receptor binding theory, ionotropic and metabotropic glutamate and GABA receptors, receptor trafficking and localization.

BLOCK 3 – Receptors This block focuses on synaptic mechanisms of neurotransmitter release and termination of signaling, as well as intracellular signaling cascades that are regulated by synaptic transmission. Topics include electrophysiological and molecular analysis of neurotransmitter release, short-term plasticity in neurotransmitter release, synaptic plasticity, calcium signaling and regulation of intracellular signaling cascades and gene expression.

BLOCK 4 – Development of the Nervous System This block focuses on molecular mechanisms of neuronal development and their relation to disease. Topics include neurogenesis, neural stem cells, molecular control of axonal guidance and neuronal migration, and cell and synaptic adhesions molecules.

BLOCK 5 – Anatomy and Function of Sensory and Motor Systems This block focuses on the neural circuitry that comprises sensory and motor systems. Topics include organization and function of the retina, and visual cortex, mechanosensation, genetically defined circuits for nociception, organization and function of somatosensory cortex, motor cortex, basal ganglia neural circuitry, and cerebellar organization and function.

BLOCK 6 – Neurobiology of Disease This block focuses on the neurobiological underpinnings of disease. For each topic, the disease and its impact on society is introduced, and then detailed discussions of the molecular, genetic underpinnings and circuit and behavioral consequences of the disorder are presented. Topics include epilepsy, addiction, fear and anxiety circuitry, schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. This block also includes two classes devoted to human neuroimaging methods such at fMRI and DTI.

NBIO 850 Communication of Scientific Results
(Cross-listed: CBPH 705)

Course Director: Doug Phanstiel, PhD and Jason Stein, PhD

Also known as P Class, this course is focused on the principles for effective scientific communication. The major component is focused on developing and giving scientific talks. The course also covers how to introduce speakers, prepare slides, and speak with the public about science. Finally, a written component is focused on preparation of specific aims for fellowship and grant application. Spencer Smith currently directs the course, with additional faculty participating. The class is limited to Neuroscience Curriculum students. Students prepare talks, refine them in small groups (3-4 students), and then present them in class. The in-class talk is videotaped, and these tapes are reviewed by the students in a session with their peers. After another round of refining with their small group, the students give their polished talks to the department in a formal setting. Writing is critiqued in class, with peers and guest faculty all offering input. Together, these components help the students develop their own effective speaking and writing methods, and prepare students for the next stage in their scientific careers. Fall semester, typically year 2.

BBSP 710 Statistics for Lab Scientists

Course Director: Jin Szatkiewicz, PhD

BBSP 710 introduces the basic concepts and methods of statistics with emphasis on applications in the experimental biological sciences. Students should have a basic understanding of algebra and arithmetic. No previous background in probability or statistics is required, nor is experience with statistical computing. The objectives of this course are to provide graduate students in biomedical research programs familiarity with basic experimental design and elementary statistical methods. By the end of the course, students should understand the principles of experimental design, be familiar with basic statistical methods (and how they are implemented in R), and know which methods are appropriate in a given circumstance. Can be substituted with a higher level statistics with DGS approval. Fall Semester, typically year 2.

*Students who receive NBIO T32 support are required to take Neuroanalytics NBIO750 as one of their electives.

CBPH 895 Refresher Course on Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)

Course Director: Jay Brenman, PhD

Fourth year students take a short mini-course with face to face faculty led discussions regarding issues that arise while responsibly conducting research. This is meant as a “refresher” for more experienced students that have had 1st year BBSP RCR exposure previously and includes NIH suggested topics and readings. Case studies and hypothetical situations involving potential scenarios confronting graduate students will be covered. These topics include: mentor and mentee relationships, publication authorship, collaboration, peer review, ethical use of human and animal subjects, conflicts of interest, intellectual property, plagiarism, data acquisition and data processing. Fall semester: Brenman and Faculty.