Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE From Molecular to Translational Neuroscience

UM LEVEL 03 - Years 2, 3, 4 in Modular Undergraduate Course



DEPARTMENT Physiology and Biochemistry

DESCRIPTION This study-unit provides an introduction to the study of molecular biosignalling in the nervous system and addresses the key cellular and molecular mechanisms leading to disease. In this regard, emphasis is given to the crosstalk and interdisciplinary nature of contemporary neurochemistry and neurobiology.

The study-unit covers concepts in basic and molecular neurochemistry, focusing on the cellular and functional organization of the cellular components of the nervous system to the excitability of neurons and glia and how they participate in signal transduction. This will extend to address how changes in the environment (sensory cues) are represented by the brain and processed to produce appropriate behaviors (motor outputs) and plasticity.

An overview of the aberrant neurochemical and genetic changes that lead to specific neurological disorders will be reviewed. Some of the basic laboratory procedures most broadly applied in the neurosciences, such as neuronal recording, basic immunocytochemistry, brain slice preparations, patch clamp, in vivo imaging and gene expression will be introduced. This should be useful to everyone, but especially to students interested to progress further in the realms of neuroscience research.

Towards the end of the study-unit, students will investigate disorders of the nervous system to better understand the devastating consequences brought about through alteration of the brain chemistry following disease. Finally, the students will be taken towards an understanding and appreciation of various animal models that are used to replicate and study altered disease states in the brain.

Study-unit Aims:

The aim of this study-unit is to teach students the fundamental principles underlying basic neuroscience through concepts that integrate basic anatomy, neurochemistry, physiology and pharmacology in both health and disease.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- Describe the cellular, structural and functional organization of the nervous system and the function of the blood-brain barrier;
- Describe the structure and role of ion channels and the generation of an action potential;
- Outline chemical neurotransmission;
- List correct temporal sequence events;
- Describe the structural and functional characteristics of G-protein coupled receptors and ionotropic receptors;
- Outline the activation of downstream intracellular signalling mechanisms by heteromeric G-proteins;
- Discuss the generation of secondary messengers;
- Explain the activation of key protein kinases;
- Discuss how signal transduction cascades result in the amplification of signals;
- Discuss the application of receptors as therapeutic targets;
- Discuss the neurobiology of glia;
- Discuss the synthetic pathways of selected neurotransmitters;
- Learn the major receptor classifications and representative receptor agonists and antagonists for the above transmitters;
- Understand the pathways for touch and pain/temperature sensation, from the skin to the somatosensory cortex; and
- Discuss the relationships between neurotransmitter dysfunction and neuropathology neural retinal circuitry.

2. Skills:

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:
- Research the existing literature related to workings of the brain;
- Develop hypotheses based on previous findings;
- Compare electrical and chemical synapses transmission based on velocity of conduction, fidelity, and the possibility for neuromodulation (facilitation or inhibition);
- Explain the biochemistry of phototransduction and adaptation in photoreceptors;
- Analyse central visual pathways and their contribution to visual perception;
- Describe the anatomy of audition and mechanisms of acoustoelectric transduction;
- Explain the mechanisms of vestibular transduction, central vestibular pathways, and the etiology of common vestibule disorders;
- Identify the brain areas involved in memory acquisition and storage, and associated memory pathologies and synaptic plasticity;
- Distinguish between several disorders of the nervous system including; epilepsy, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, motor neuron disease, stroke and altered mental states caused by drugs of abuse; and
- Describe basic theoretical and experimental concepts to some of the tools used in neuroscience research as well as in the use of animal models to mimic specific disease states.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Bear, M. F. and Connors, B. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. 4th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Publishers. 2015.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture and Independent Study

Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Sept. Asst Session Weighting
MCQ and Written Examination (2 Hours) SEM1 Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Claude Julien Bajada
Richard Muscat
Mauro Pessia
Mario Valentino (Co-ord.)
Christian Zammit


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The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2023/4. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.