Lesley University CBIOL 3311: Cellular Neurobiology, Spring 2017
3 Credits, University Hall 2-146, Tuesday & Friday 12:55p – 2:10p
Instructor: Albert Liau, 617-528-9552, TBD or by appointment

Course Overview

How is it that, to borrow the words of Neurologist VS Ramachandran, “a three-pound mass of jelly… can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space… the meaning of infinity… and… contemplate itself contemplating on the meaning of infinity‘’ and so much more? In this course, we will examine the fundamental structures that comprise the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Starting with the properties and behaviors of the basic unit of the nervous system, the neuron, we will find out how interactions among proteins and cells can give rise to complex phenomena like cognition and sensation.

Objectives, Outcomes and Expectations

Through this course, students will gain familiarity with fundamental concepts in neuroscience that will enable them to understand and further explore a variety of recent developments and future directions in neuroscience research, their applications and implications. By examining basic biological phenomena (e.g. action potentials, neurotransmitter binding, response to stress) at the molecular, cellular, tissue, organ and behavioral levels, diligent students will gain a framework for (1) reading a range of primary source materials in the field of neuroscience, (2) exploring and analyzing news stories about developments related to the field, (3) conversing with scientists conducting research and (4) undertaking basic research projects in the form of internships or entry-level research positions.

Required Texts

Brady, S. T. (2012). Basic Neurochemistry. Waltham, MA, USA: Academic Press.

Goodsell, D. S. (2009). The Machinery of Life. New York, NY, USA: Copernicus Books.

Optional/Recommended Texts

E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth (iBooks electronic textbook)

Ratey, J. (2002). A User’s Guide to the Brain. New York, NY, USA: Vintage.

Alberts, B., et al. (2009). Essential Cell Biology. New York, NY, USA: Garland Science.

Supplemental Materials: Videos, audio interviews and scientific articles chosen by the instructor (see Course Schedule for examples)

Course Prerequisites

Required: CBIOL 1101, Biology I with Lab, or permission of the instructor

Strongly recommended: CBIOL 2211, Cell and Molecular Biology

No-Device Policy

During class time, we will follow a strict no-device policy. To minimize distraction and encourage engagement, computers, tablets and cell phones may not be used during class time except for urgent circumstances or specific class activities (during which the instructor will make it clear that the use of devices is permitted). The use of any of these devices during class time will immediately result in a full letter grade reduction in the final grade for the semester.

If you need to take a call or respond to an important message, please step out of the classroom for privacy and to be considerate of your peers. If you have made accommodations to use technology in the classroom (e.g. for note taking), please let the instructor know ASAP. 

Communications Guidelines

The most effective way to communicate with the instructor and course assistant is in person after class, during the break, during office hours or by appointment.

Attendance Policy

Students are expected to attend every class session. If a student misses classes for legitimate reasons (e.g. illness, urgent personal matters, important appointments/engagements, athletics events, etc.), the student should notify the instructor (ahead of the absence if possible), and the student is responsible for the material covered during missed classes—this means for any classes not attended, the student should (1) speak with the instructor about to find out what was covered, (2) read the textbook sections corresponding to topics discussed and (3) obtain from the instructor or fellow students any resources used or given out during class. Absences without a legitimate reason will adversely affect the final grade.

Make-up Policy

Students may submit assignments late only with a legitimate reason. For missed classes, students should make arrangements to access materials used in class (such as videos) and perform any activities (such as in-class problem solving exercises). When missing exams for a legitimate reason, a student should contact the instructor as soon as possible and make arrangements with the instructor to take a make-up exam.

Grading Policy

Grades for the semester will be determined with Lesley University’s grading scale (see below) using the following percentage breakdown:

Exams, 30%: Midterm, 15% // Final, 15%

Discussion & Professionalism, 20%: in-class problem solving, analysis of news stories and journal articles, etc. (counts class conduct and quality of engagement)

Seminar/Conference, 10%: attending & analyzing a neuroscience-related talk in the area

Homework & Projects, 40%: Assignments, 15% // Book Discussion, 15% // Final Project, 10%

Class time will involve (1) in-depth discussions and consideration of (2) questions posed by both the instructor and students as well as (3) brief presentations by students. (2) will include solving problems together as a class; the instructor or student will pose a problem or question (which may be from the reading, self-formulated, etc.) which the class will then work through together—problems may range from basic identification of neurobiological structures to analyzing the molecular interactions of a drug with a receptor. For (3), students will be asked to bring in examples of topics covered in class as well as comment on such examples given by their fellow students; for example, following a general discussion of glial cells, students will gather information on specific glial cells, then present their findings in the next class session and answer questions from other students and the instructor. The clarity, level of detail and ability to answer questions during these presentations will constitute a significant part of evaluating a student’s discussion participation.

The discussion and presentation portions of the grade will be determined by the quality of a student’s (A) preparation for in-class problem solving sessions (in part determined by responses to a written assignment to be completed prior to each session), (B) summary and analysis of informational research done on specific topics (see paragraph and Course Schedule below) presented during class and (C) responses to questions and contributions to class discussion. The grade for the final project will be determined by the extent to which it demonstrates a student’s mastery of the material learned in class as well as a student’s ability to research and think critically on the project topic.

Regarding Professionalism: Students will very likely be in professional situations throughout their careers and the ability to act appropriately in such situations is important. We will take the time we spend together in this course as an opportunity to exercise our ability to act professionally. Conduct positively influencing a student’s professionalism portion of the student’s grade include respectful treatment of peers (e.g. giving them the attention and courtesy they deserve), approaching presentations and projects with due seriousness (e.g. being prepared, communicating conscientiously with peers and the instructor when needed, contributing fairly to group efforts, etc.) and general efforts to be responsible and accountable. At the end of the semester, each student’s professionalism portion of the grade will be determined on the basis of peer feedback and instructor observation of a student’s conduct during class time and group work. Course Schedule

Rough outline by week

  • Week 1: Brief review of relevant background topics in Molecular and Cell Biology: cellular structures, protein structure and function
    • Machinery of Life (MoL) chapter 1-3, 5-6
    • Review Recommendations: Essential Cell Biology (ECB) chapter 1, EO Wilson’s Life on Earth (LoE) chapter 5
    • Basic Neurochemistry (BN) chapter 1
    • “Axons Degenerate in the Absence of Mitochondria in C. elegans
  • Weeks 2-3: Cells of the Nervous System
    • BN chapter 1, LoE chapter 15
    • “Confocal Imaging of Glial Cells in the Intact Rat Optic Nerve”
    • “Brain microglia: watchdogs with pedigree” from Nature Neuroscience
    • “Molecular Imaging of Microglia/Macrophages in the Brain”
    • “Forebrain Engraftment by Human Glial Progenitor Cells Enhances Synaptic Plasticity and Learning in Adult Mice” from Cell Stem Cell
  • Weeks 4: Membranes
    • BN chapter 2 and sections of chapter 10, LoE chapter 6
    • “Dynamics of Oligodendrocyte Generation and Myelination in the Human Brain”
    • “Omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive function in women”
    • “Omega-3 and treatment implications in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”
    • “Dietary intake of n-3, n-6 fatty acids and fish, Relationship with hostility in young adults”
  • Week 5: The Action Potential
    • BN chapter 4, LoE chapter 15
  • Weeks 6-8: Synaptic Transmission, Neurotransmitters and Receptors
    • BN chapters 12, 13, 15, 17, 18
    • “Ligand-binding domain of nicotinic receptors” from Nature
    • “Crystal structure of a human GABAA receptor” from Nature
    • “Bilingual neurons release glutamate and GABA” form Nature
  • Weeks 9-11: Sensory Transduction
    • BN chapters 51-54
    • “Molecular architecture of hair bundles” from Nature Neuroscience
    • Peptidergic CGRPa Primary Sensory Neurons Encode Heat and Itch and Tonically Suppress Sensitivity to Cold” from Neuron
  • Special Topics, if time permits: the brain during sleep, neurodegenerative diseases, fetal cells, etc.
    • “Effects of Sleep and Wake on Oligodendrocytes” from The Journal of Neuroscience
    • “Sleep it out” from Science

Book Discussion

With many recent advances in the field of neuroscience, there has been an abundance of popular science books that examine various aspects of the brain. Students will choose a book related to neuroscience from a list of options and use course concepts to better understand the book’s subject matter, then present important information from the book to the class.

Midterm Project: analyze an advance in neuroscience

Students will find a recent (within the past year) news story related to neuroscience research and work on understanding it in depth by (1) applying what has been covered so far in the course and (2) consulting additional sources of information such as journal articles. Students will then give an in-class presentation on the news story, (A) providing explanations and interpretations of the research discussed in the news story and (B) answering questions from fellow students. Students may work together in groups of up to 3 three students.

Final Project: research and explore a topic of your choice

Students will investigate a topic of their interest in neuroscience and present the outcomes of their explorations to the class. The work could build upon a particular topic from the Book Report. For example, if a student does a Book Report on Your Brain on Nature, this student may then work on (i) keeping a record of what impact more time spent outdoors has on the clarity of their thoughts or level of stress, as well as (ii) finding additional information (research papers, news stories, etc.) on this topic. Additional guidelines will be given in class. Proposals for Final Projects will be submitted after the midterm exam to allow time for development of the project with the assistance of the instructor and course assistant.

Academic Responsibility 

Unless prior approval is granted by the instructor, all work submitted for this course is to be your own original work completed specifically for this course and not previously or concurrently submitted to any other instructor. All infractions of this policy will be taken seriously and pursued accordingly. Please refer to the Student Handbook for more specific policy guidelines.

Disability Services for Students

Lesley University is committed to ensuring that all qualified students with disabilities are afforded an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from its programs and services. To receive accommodations, a student must have a documented disability as defined by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and provide documentation of the disability.  Eligibility for reasonable accommodations will be based on the documentation provided. 

If you are a student with a documented disability, or feel that you may have a disability, please contact the following.

Grading Scale (as per LC catalog)

A   = 93-100 B   = 83-86 C   = 73-76 D  =  63-66

A-  = 90-92 B-  = 80-82 C-  = 70-72 D- =  60-62

B+ = 87-89 C+ = 77-79 D+ = 67-69 F   =  59 and below

Incompletes (I)

In exceptional cases, where an unanticipated event beyond one’s control interferes with a student’s completion of course requirements, a letter grade of “I” (Incomplete) may be give to a student at the instructor’s discretion. Student and instructor must complete and sign an Incomplete Contract. Responsibility for completion of work rests with the student. The deadline for completion is the end of the following semester. Contracted work not completed by that time is recorded “I/F” (Failing).