BCSC 249: Developmental Neurobiology

Cross-listed: NSCI 249
Prerequisites: BCSC 240 (NSCI 201) or permission of instructor
Offered: Spring

The organization of our nervous system defines the ways we behave, perceive, think and feel. In this course we will examine how species-specific patterns of neural organization emerge, and learn about the cellular and molecular processes influencing neural development.

The first portion of this course begins with a brief discussion of the nature/nurture issue as it applies to the problem of nervous system development. We consider to what extent neural organization is a product of genetic ancestry or early experience. We also discuss if this is a useful distinction and ask how it can be approached productively in research. Next, we consider those factors influencing a cell's decision to become a neuron. Where are neurons and glia born, how do they migrate to their destination, and what influences their expression of particular receptors and neurotransmitters? We will examine why so many neurons die during the course of normal development, and discuss the role of neurotrophic factors in programmed cell death. This first section of the course concludes by considering how the nervous system is parcelled into functionally specialized areas. For instance, we will discuss how and when distinct regions of the cerebral cortex (motor, visual, auditory) are specified.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the nervous system is its highly ordered connections, and the second portion of this course considers the processes that insure specific synaptic connections between neurons. We will examine the cues that axons use to navigate to their remote targets and accurately map their connections onto these targets. We will also consider how the nervous system refines this basic pattern of connections in response to early perceptual and/or hormonal experience. Finally, we will compare and contrast these examples of experience-dependent developmental plasticity with forms of neural plasticity normally exhibited in adulthood.

Recommended preparation for the course: Basic knowledge of the anatomical, neurochemical, and physiological organization of the nervous system. This includes:

  1. basic cell biology, including the fundamentals of gene expression and protein synthesis
  2. basic cellular anatomy, as well as the specialized anatomy of nerve cells
  3. principles of electrical excitability (i.e., ionic bases of synaptic and action potentials)
  4. principles of neuronal signaling, including transmitter synthesis and release, receptors, and second messenger systems
  5. basic knowledge of the anatomical and functional organization of sensory and motor systems from the peripheral sensory organs to the cerebral cortex

BCSC 240 (NSCI 201), Basic Neurobiology, is recommended, but students with a demonstrably equivalent background can enroll with permission of the instructor.