BIO-311 / 4 credits

Teacher(s): Schneggenburger Ralf, Mathis Mackenzie

Language: English


The course starts with fundamentals of electrical - and chemical signaling in neurons. Students then learn how neurons in the brain receive and process sensory information, and how other neurons control the behavior of an animal. Furthermore, memory, learning, and brain disorders will be introduced.



neuron, ion channels, neurotransmitters, action potential, synaptic transmission, brain anatomy, sensory perception, primary sensory transduction, somatosensation, nociception, hearing, auditory system, cochlea, cochlear implant, vision, retina, primary visual cortex, nerve-muscle synapse, motor neuron, spinal cord, proprioception, reflex pathways, primary motor cortex, basal ganglia, associative learning, long-term potentiation, optogenetics, systems neuroscience

Learning Prerequisites

Required courses

Cellular and Molecular Biology II (BIO-207)

Recommended courses

General Biology (BIOENG-110); Biological chemistry I (BIO-212)

Important concepts to start the course

Basic notions of cell biology (cell membrane, phospholipid bilayers, transmembrane proteins) and of physics (electricity) would be good, but are not absolutely necessary. Curiosity and the willingness to learn about new concepts are important.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, the student must be able to:

  • Describe the electrical properties of mammalian cells, and to draw a simple electrical equivalent circuit of cells
  • Describe the mechanisms of how various classes of ion channels are gated by membrane potential changes, or extracellular/intracellular ligands.
  • Describe which methods can be used to measure the electrical signaling of nerve cells.
  • Describe how an action potential is generated in an electrically excitable cell, like a neuron.
  • Describe how the release of neurotransmitter substances can initiate rapid inter-cellular communication between nerve cells, and from nerve cells to muscle cells.
  • Describe how an appropriate physical or chemical signal from the environment can initiate membrane potential changes in sensory neurons, a process called "primary sensory transduction".
  • Describe how neuronal pathways transmit specific sensory information over several anatomical subdivisions of the brain.
  • Draw functional neuroanatomical schemes, in which the student places specific neurons and their long-range axons, and in which he/she can assign the principal direction of information flow.
  • Describe methods how to artificially influence the electrical signaling of neurons by light, a method called "optogenetics".
  • Translate his/her knwoledge by reading original research papers in topics like neuronal excitability, sensory processing, motor control, and simple forms of leaning in mice
  • Reason how new knowledge of the cellular and circuit bases of simple forms of learning can be obtained in modern cellular, circuits and systems Neuroscience research.

Transversal skills

  • Access and evaluate appropriate sources of information.
  • Demonstrate the capacity for critical thinking
  • Continue to work through difficulties or initial failure to find optimal solutions.
  • Set objectives and design an action plan to reach those objectives.

Teaching methods

2h lectures per week

2h exercises per week

Expected student activities

Students are expected to attend lectures, actively engage in exercises, read the corresponding chapters in the accompanying textbook and the papers handed-out for discussion. During exercises, papers will be discussed in depth, materials reviewed, and simple computational examples will be introduced for analysis of the nervous system.

Assessment methods

Written exam during the exam session


Office hours No
Assistants Yes
Forum Yes
Others Moodle Forum



Reference textbook: Dale Purves, George Augustine et al.: Neuroscience 6th ed. 2019.

Further useful books:"Principles of Neurobiology", Liqun Luo, 2016, Garland Science, New York/Oxford.

Principles of Neural Science, Kandel, Koester, Mack & Siegelbaum 6th Edition; 2021 McGraw-Hill

Specific papers giving examples of current Neuroscience research (available on Moodle).


Ressources en bibliothèque


Lecture materials will be available on Moodle

Prerequisite for

BIO-480 Neuroscience: From molecular mechanisms to disease; BIO-482 Neuroscience: Cellular and circuit mechanisms

In the programs

  • Semester: Fall
  • Exam form: Written (winter session)
  • Subject examined: Neuroscience
  • Lecture: 2 Hour(s) per week x 14 weeks
  • Exercises: 2 Hour(s) per week x 14 weeks

Reference week

10-11ELD020  AAC137 

Thursday, 10h - 12h: Lecture AAC137

Monday, 10h - 12h: Exercise, TP ELD020