Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Module code: BS3055

Module co-ordinator: Professor Nick Hartell

The human brain is the most complex structure known, and understanding it is considered the ‘final frontier’ of biology. Neurons and their supporting glial cells form the cellular building blocks of the brain. Individually these cells express a vast array of proteins that sense and transmit information; collectively they integrate and process this information allowing us to make sense of our environment and modify our behaviour.

In this module we will examine in detail the molecules expressed by neurons and glia that underlie these abilities starting with development and then moving on to the adult brain. We will look at the latest techniques and tools used by neuroscientists to study the brain and will discuss the structure and function of synaptic proteins, ion channels and receptors given. Armed with the knowledge of how the expressed proteins work in neurons, we will examine how neurons function to integrate information and allow us to sense pain and how genetic mutations can result in neural dysfunction.

Topics covered

  • Spatial and temporal sequence of events and signals underlying the development of the nervous system
  • Temperature sensing and nociception
  • Properties of ion channels, receptors and signalling pathways involved in brain function
  • Molecular mechanisms controlling neurotransmitter release, synaptic transmission and synaptic plasticity
  • Molecular organisation of a neuron and the role of anchoring, scaffolding, receptor and signalling proteins in pre- and post-synaptic regions
  • Dendritic propagation and the mechanisms underlying action potential generation
  • Role of Nitric Oxide in the CNS
  • Transmission of information between neurons and regulation of neuronal excitability


  • 26 one-hour lectures
  • 8 one-hour tutorials


  • Exam, 3 hours (70%)
  • Essay, 2,000 words (15%)
  • Tutorials (7.5%)
  • Research paper (7.5%)