Week 6

Unfortunately for me, I was not able to attend this week’s lecture but, fortunately, I was able to attend the Brain & Mind Symposium. Thus, this week’s blog post will address that instead.

It was really intriguing to watch neuroscientists discussing ideas with each other in the panel discussions. They all came from different backgrounds and had different areas of study, but all of them studied the brain. And you could really see the varying backgrounds, especially in the “Future of Neuroscience” panel discussion, which included most scientists of all the talks. Many of the speakers had different ideas on what is the next big thing of neurosciences, e.g. identifying all the different cells and their subtypes. To me, this does indeed sound quite important.

Many people will associate a neuron with the brain quite easily, but what about glial cells? At least I knew very little of them if anything before this course. Even in the field of neurosciences, glial cells seem to be a big unknown. We know that astrocytes communicate with neurons, but with what purpose and trigger? And how does  communication with glial cells alter the operation of neurons? Why is there different concentrations of glia in different regions of the brain? Luckily, some very smart people ask these questions too and try to find answers to them.

Posted by Jake

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Brain blog – week 5

This week’s theme was a deeper dive into neurotransmitter systems. The chapter first started by telling about the ways those systems can be studied experimentally, starting from the three criteria needed for a substance to be classified as a neurotransmitter, related to its fabrication, release, and effect. All these three layers have to be studied, so that a substance can be deemed to be a neurotransmitter with reasonable confidence, and I was surprised by how intricate the whole field seems to be.

In the next part, Different types of neurons were classified using their primary type of neurotransmitter. Cholinergic, Catecholaminergic, Serotonergic, and Amino Acidergic neuron types were presented. ATP which is sometimes present as a co-transmitter was also presented. The end-note on retrograde messengers such as endocannabinoids was very puzzling and exciting, and it will be fun to see in the future whether they really play an essential role in neurotransmission regulation or if their effect is marginal. The rest of the chapter laid light on different types of neurotransmitter-gated channels, as well as on the mechanisms of g-protein coupled receptors and the subsequent signaling pathways. It was interesting to note the heterogeneity of responses possible for one neurotransmitter.

All in all, the chapter left an impression to me that a lot is yet to be known with regards to neurotransmitters. All of the knowledge still feels quite new and hard to grasp, but I hope that as we study different subsystems of the brain, I will acquire a more intuitive understanding of the different neurotransmitters and how they link to higher-level systems in the nervous system. This chapter feels like one where I will come back to a lot in the following months.

Posted by Bent Harnist

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Week 4

This week’s lecture topic was chemical senses, the eye, and the central visual system. There was a lot of material for this week. So even though the basics of these topics were familiar from previous courses the book went much more into detail. I think it would have been better if the chemical senses and visual sense would have been divided in to two parts. There was so much new information especially on the structure of the sensory regions. Compared to the previous weeks this week there was a lot more to do. In addition to this we also had the structure and function of the brain this week and last week which further increased the workload.

Although there was a lot of work these topics were also highly interesting. I did not know how much the senses work together to for example produce the perception of taste which is in addition to the taste cells also dependent on the olfactory cells. I also had the widely spread misconception that there are different parts on the tongue which are mainly responsible for each taste. That turned out to be wrong, because each taste bud responds to many different tastes, but just in varying amounts. It was also interesting to find out that the higher levels of visual perception are still relatively unknown. I hope that some day we get a more comprehensive picture of all the senses and how they work together. I would like to know whether looking at something can trigger the perception of other senses and how it would work on neural level e.g. seeing something very tasty on tv could trigger the perception of some delicious taste and smell.

Posted by Sebastian König

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Third week of BrainBlog

Three lectures behind, more to follow. This week’s lecture covered synaptic transmission or, in other words, how neurons communicate with each other and with other target cells outside the nervous system.

With my limited knowledge, I assume this to be one of the more important topics when learning about the brain, as it is the basis of all activity in our nervous systems. What amazes me is the enormous scale of synaptic transmission: as stated by the course book, there are billions of synapses in my brain releasing neurotransmitters every second as I am writing this blog post. And not only the scale, but the complexity as well. Those already complex chemical releases vary wildly in their nature and effect on the target cells. Somehow, those billions of (mostly) chemical reactions enable me to contemplate the very same reactions and produce thoughts of them, which then inflict billions of synapses to fire in your, the reader’s, brain. All of which can be traced back to simple calcium ions flowing through the presynaptic membrane.

Unfortunately, our knowledge is currently limited to singular synapses or neurons and how they transmit messages. Which, of course, is crucial in every meaning of the word. Knowing how synaptic transmission works has allowed us to identify multiple disorders, develop drugs to counteract them, discover how certain toxins work, and so on. But it leaves me wondering, what will we discover when we have the tools to observe millions (or hopefully more) of synapses simultaneously? And are there unknowns in a singular synaptic transmission or have we mostly figured that out already?

On the positive side, there is lots to look forward to in the field of neurosciences.

Posted by Jake

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Brain Blog – Week 2

The first few lectures and five first chapters in the course book have laid down the foundation for being able to learn about different functions of the nervous system later in the course. Starting from general concepts of neurons and glia, membrane potentials, action potentials and synaptic connections, we have been introduced to more and more layers of complexity in an attempt to describe what we currently know about the brain. However, that complexity has not simply been a burden, but has also helped tying separate existing pieces of knowledge together in unexpected ways and clarifying previous misconceptions.

For me personally, an example of the former would be The fact that I knew about the fact that the Golgi apparatus is used to post-process and pack proteins, but I wouldn’t have been able to cite any example of this. Now I know that, for example, Peptide neurotransmitters are made from a slice of a polypeptide chain, where the slicing takes part in the Golgi apparatus and the newly produced neurotransmitters are sent off packed in secretory granules to the axon terminal via axoplasmic transport. I also knew that kinesin was able to transport stuff in the cell,  but I didn’t know what and where, let alone that microtubules were involved!

As for clarifying misconceptions, I always thought that synapses were always located between axon terminals and the end of dendrites. During the last few weeks, I have learned that this is false and that axons can form synapses at other places than at their ends, and even more surprisingly that synapses occur at diverse locations in dendrites and can even directly connect to the soma or another axon.

I am really excited about this course and particularly eager to learn about what these different systems of neurons look like in different parts of the nervous system and how they work together to create higher level-functions for example.

Posted by Bent Harnist

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Week 1

I am very excited to finally take a course solely on the structure and operation of the human brain. Previous biology courses in high school and university have not taught me  much about the human brain. These courses have mainly just gone through the basics of the anatomy and the physiology of cells, but the operation of the brain on higher levels is still mostly unknown to me. As a biomedical engineering student, I am very interested in the different methods of imaging the human body. Therefore, I hope that I get to learn about the various brain imaging methods used in medicine and research today.

The first week of this course had only one online lecture and one pre-recorded video. The lecture was very interesting even though it did not directly discuss any of the material in the course book. In the first lecture we got introduced to the course staff and even shortly to each of the participating students. I was surprised to find out that students from very varying backgrounds have chosen to take this course. I would not have thought that students from the school of arts and the school of business would enrol to these courses. The pre-recorded video was a bit short and only discussed very briefly some of the main points of the course books chapters 1-2. In addition to attending the lecture and watching the video I read the course books chapters 1 and two. These chapters did not contain much new information to me, but it was good to go through the basics once again. What got me most interested in the book was the history of neuroscience. I hope that I get know more about how neuroscience became what is today throughout this course.

Posted by Sebastian König

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Posted by Sebastian König

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