Neuronal Networks and Behavior

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Neuronal Networks and Behavior

  • Host University

    Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

  • Location

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • Area of Study


  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    This course is designed for life sciences students who want to learn more about how networks of brain cells control behaviour. To this end, we will discuss different aspects of brain function covering sensory information processing, control of movement, learning and memory, spatial navigation, cognition, emotions. We will focus on how neuronal networks in different brain areas give rise to these functions.

    After completen this course the students will be able to:
    1. Explain the biological basis of perception (vision, auditory processing, smell and taste), motor and behavioural control, and cognitive and emotional processes. In addition, you will get an understanding of the neurobiological basis of a number of neurological and psychiatric disorders.
    2. Explain the general plan of human sensory and movement systems.
    3. Apply this general plan to explain the differences and similarities between different sensory systems.
    4. Give examples of how and through which neurons and nuclei signal transduction proceeds during interaction of the human brain with the external environment.
    5. Apply this knowledge in performing scientific research themselves.
    6. Create new research ideas based on the learned practical and theoretical knowledge.

    The students will develop the following academic skills:
    1. Search for and read scientific literature, extract important information.
    2. Utilise the theoretical background from course lectures and practicals to critically evaluate neuroscience research, formulate critical questions and participate in discussion.
    3. Acquire hands-on experience in recording from neuronal networks, conducting experiments and analyzing own data. The students will learn how to stimulate neurons and record synaptic communication within neuronal networks, induce synaptic learning.
    4. Design and conduct own experiment based on the learned technique
    5. Develop practical experimentation skills on analysis of human startle responses and its sensory and emotional modulation.
    6. Summarise the experimental results in a lab report

    In Neuronal Networks & Behaviour we will discuss different aspects of brain function ranging from sensory information processing, control of movement, learning and memory to cognition and emotions. We will study how neuronal networks in different brain areas give rise to these functions. To achieve this, we will use a combination of lectures, written assignments and practicals. These will build on chapters from the book ‘Neuroscience’ by Purves and colleagues (5th edition).

    To actively engage you in exploring the exciting territory of neurons that shape our behaviour, the first two weeks will be centred on working on assignments. These assignments are designed to help you prepare for the lectures. In this way the lectures will go deeper on the subjects that you already worked on through the assignment and will resolve the questions that may arise during this preparation. During the lecture we will often work in smaller groups to discuss the material. In the second week, a series of practicals will start. During the first practical you will perform experiments on neuronal networks in brain slices and will learn basic principles of neuronal network function. You will even have an opportunity to design and perform your own experiment under supervision. The second practical takes you to experimenting with behaviour and modulation of sensory information processing. Here you can be the subject of the experiment yourself.

    1. Assignments
    A system of short Turnitin Assignments was designed to help you with mastering the course material and prepare for the lectures. You will receive at each lecture during the first 2 weeks a short list of questions that you will complete and send using Turnitin Assignments on BB before the next lecture. The questions will be discussed during the subsequent lecture. If you submit all the assignments on time you will get 0.5 extra points added to your exam grade. The primary goal of these assignments is not to find the correct answers but for you to discover difficult issues before the lecture, so that we can adequately address your questions. Completion of all assignments is obligatory for all students.

    2. Lectures (l) by dr. N. Goriounova and dr. O.Stiedl
    The first day will start with an opening lecture during which the aims of the course are highlighted. The first week will contain lectures on sensory systems; during the second week we will discuss the motor control of behavior memory and cognition. You are expected to complete the assignments before the lectures so that we can discuss the topics and address unclear issues in depth.

    3. Hippocampal brain slice practical (pra) by J. Timmerman In the second week, the practicals on neuronal networks from the hippocampus will expose you to the actual experimentation that is done to understand functioning of neuronal networks. It will provide you with an insight with what it takes to do research, and it will help you to understand some of the concepts discussed in the course. During the practicals, we will divide the class into multiple small teams of maximum 12 students. You will work in groups of 3 on one experimental setup.

    4. Startle eye-blink practical (pra) by dr. O. Stiedl
    In the third week, experiments on human subjects are performed with an emphasis on startle reflex modulation in humans. In addition, a number of key primary research articles are discussed that facilitate the understanding of which brain areas are involved in emotional learning and central reflex modulation.

    The grading procedure will be as follows:
    1. Assignments (A): pass/fail. All assignments are to be submitted
    2. Practicals (P): pass/fail. Participation in practicals is obligatory
    3. Written reports (R): from the practicals corrected after tutor’s feedback. Report electrophysiology practical 10% of the final grade; report startle reflex practical 10%.
    4. Written exam (E) consisting of open questions 80%
    5. Bonus points of 0.5 added to the exam grade in case all assignments are well done and submitted before deadlines Grades for the reports and exam should be at least 5.5 and can non compensate each other Reexamination: Written exam (E)

    Basic (first and second year level) courses in Cell Biology and Neurosciences.

    This course is part of the track ‘Neurosciences’ of the minor ‘Biomolecular Sciences and Neurosciences’.

    In addition to the lectures and practicals, we will pay attention to the development of a number of important academic skills: presenting scientific information in an oral presentation, reading and understanding primary research articles, and designing experiments. These skills will not only be crucial later in your scientific career, but will also help you to learn to distinguish main topics and messages from side issues when preparing for the lectures of your fellow students, or even when preparing your exam. The track ‘Neurosciences’ is an excellent preparation for the Master Neurosciences. This minor course requires a minimum of 25 participants to take place.


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