The main objective of the course is to allow students to experience first hand how neurobiological questions are asked and answered. In each of the following three course sections, you will first be introduced to the relevant experimental techniques and then conduct a small independent research project.
1) Introduction to electrophysiology and neurogenetics (4 labs). Recordings of the electrical activity of neurons has formed the foundation of our understanding of the neural basis of behavior. You will learn to use the electrophysiology equipment and a simple extracellular recording technique which you will use to explore mutations affecting neurotransmission in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. You will design experiment to test the effect of mutants and/or neuroactive drugs on neurotransmission.
2) Intrinsic and network properties of identified neurons (4 labs). In many invertebrate animals, such as the leech, which will be used here, neurons are individually identifiable based on their morphology and physiology. You will learn to perform intracellular recordings from specific neurons in the leech nervous system and how to determine the electrical properties of nerve cells in a quantitative manner using basic biophysical experiments. Finally, in an experiment designed by yourself, you will have the opportunity to study the role of specific ion channels and synaptic input for the electrical activity of individual neurons.
3) Synaptic plasticity (4 labs). Using a mammalian in vitro preparation, you will use extracellular stimulation combined with field recordings to study long-term potentiation (LTP) and/or long-term depression (LTD) at synapses; mechanisms believed to be the cellular basis of learning and memory. With input from the instructor and colleagues, you will then design and conduct experiments to delve more deeply into the mechanistic underpinnings of synaptic plasticity.