Learning Diary – Lecture 6

Good evening!

As every week now, this one started with the quizz of 10 minute on the eye (chapter 9 of the book). The questions of the quizz were really precise and needed a really good comprehension of the topic. Maybe it’s wanted for those quizz to be hard but we feel like the questions are maybe going too deep in the subject since we haven’t got the lecture yet.

The lecture then started on the eye and visions topics. This subject is very interesting because the vision is a very complicated mecanism which allows us to do a lot of things since it’s one of the most important sense. Also, it appear that small damages in the optic nerves, chiasma or tract can lead to many different optical problems by cutting different areas of the visual field. A part of the lecture was about optical illusion, especially the one about the dress and the shoe and it’s really funny to see how different are the perceptions among the population.

The day following the lecture we had the exercise session. This one was like the second one, some open question about specific aspects of the course which was useful to help us understand the muddy parts. The last question of the exercise was about sound so we decided to wait for the lecture about the auditory system before doing it.

Since next week is the exam week let’s meet again in two week after our first excursion!

Laura, Leonardo and Hugues

Learning Diary – Lecture 5

Hi everyone!

Also this week we started the lecture with a quiz concerning neurotransmitters and their respective receptors. The quiz was not as simple as it would have seemed since there was a question asking what the functions of a signaling cascade are (–> in the case of second messenger pathways). The more obvious answer was the amplification of the signal, but it was not the only answer we should have written. Indeed, the signaling cascades are also important for the signaling at a distance, for long-lasting changes in the cell and for further regulation (all the chemicals involved in the cascade can be a good site of regulation of the signaling pathway). In addition, it is important to notice that it is not the neurotransmitter itself which determines if the synapse will be excitatory or inhibitory, but rather the receptor.

The lecture was a continuation of the previous one. The main topics were acetylcholinergic, catecholaminergic and seretoninergic neurons. It is very interesting to discover in detail how all these molecules and their pathways work. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand all the differences amongst these neurotransmitters and their pathways, which are often very subtle (we can mention for example the difference between the ACh, GABAa and Glycine receptors which are pentameric with the glutamate-gate channel which is tetrameric).

All these molecules play an important role in cognition, perception, attention, emotions and social behavior. It would be interesting to learn more about memory and the mechanisms which allow the long-term memories to exist.

This week we did not have any exercise session, since we were supposed to have an excursion in a laboratory, which has not been possible because of some timing reasons. We hope to do our first excursion soon!

See you next week,

Laura, Hugues and Leonardo

Learning Diary – Lecture 4

Terve! 🙂

This week we had our lecture on neurotransmitters and neurotransmitter systems. Although the vitality of these molecules has been introduced in a number of our previous classes it was really nice to spend a bit of time learning exactly how the channels and pathways for some of the major neurotransmitter molecules work.

We do sort of feel that since these systems tend to be quite complex it would have been nice to maybe see a little bit more text and explanation on some of the slides. Although many of them are images from our text it helps when topics such as this are broken down a bit more because when we go back to study these materials for the exam we then wouldn’t have to completely reread the chapter in order to understand what the images in the lecture slides are telling us.

In the exercise session we had the opportunity to play around with a software program called Expyriment. Although our class struggled a bit with getting it to work during our actual exercise session it would be really nice to see a step by step tutorial or examples of what we were supposed to see using the program in MyCourses later this week. Also maybe having a reminder email telling us what we are required to bring in order to do the activities would be really helpful so we can make sure to be prepared for whatever is planned.

We also had a quiz this week on our reading which was a little tricky since the chapter was quite extensive and detailed. It might be helpful for future quizzes to sort of explain how the quiz will be structured so that those of us who read the chapter can properly prepare for the quiz (either maybe telling us it will  cover the broader topics or that we should really focus on one section of the chapter for example) without having to memorize every single page of the chapter. It feels that if you just read the chapter and come in for the quiz it’s still extremely difficult to get perfect score which seems like it isn’t doing those students justice who are really trying to do well in the course.

Cheers! Can’t wait to see what next week will bring 🙂

Laura, Leonardo, and Hugues

Learning diary – Lecture 3

Good morning!

The lecture this week started with a quick quiz of 5 minutes containing only multiple choice questions. What made it difficult for us was that some of the questions were about the classification of neurons (spinous or not, Golgi Type I or II, motor/sensory/interneuron), which was discussed in a very specific paragraph of the chapter we had to read. In addition, there was a question about Alzheimer’s disease, which was unexpected because of the fact that we haven’t spent much time discussing the biology behind Alzheimer’s disease yet.

The lecture was about action potentials (4th chapter of the course book) and synaptic communication (5th chapter of the book). We clarified the process of action potential propagation as well as the mechanisms of depolarization. In the picture below we can see the typical three phases of an action potential: the depolarization due to the Na+ influx, the re-polarization caused by the K+ efflux and the hyper polarization phase, which causes a “refractory period” making Vm more negative than the normal. The picture also depicts failed initiations, which indicate that to form an action potential the initial signal has to be strong enough to overcome the threshold.

What is action potentialhttps://www.moleculardevices.com/what-action-potential

We also learnt a lot about synapses and how they work. The main classification that must be done is between electrical and chemical synapses. The difference between them is in the way the signal is propagated: for electrical synapses there are the so-called gap junctions which allow an almost immediate propagation, chemical synapses on the other hand work by releasing some specific neurotransmitter molecules into the synaptic cleft. These will then bind to the receptors of the post-synaptic cell and induce the propagation of the signal. This difference is also the explanation of why the synaptic delay is present in the chemical synapses but not in the electric ones (there was a question in the exercises about the synaptic delay).

During the exercise session  we went through few questions of the quiz. The assistants explained to us that all the possible choices we had in the question about Alzheimer’s disease were related to other neurological diseases (Parkinson, Multiple sclerosis, etc…). The other questions of this week were about the synaptic delay (as mentioned above), the action potential, glial cells and the Nernst equation. The latter was the most challenging, since we were asked to obtain the Nernst equation from the Boltzmann’s distribution.

See you next week,

Laura, Hugues and Leonardo

Learning Diary – Lecture 2


Now that school is back in session and the first week of this semester is behind us, both the organization of our classes and the expectations of our professors are finally starting to feel a bit more clear. This week we were introduced to the neuronal membrane, the structure of the brain as well as the propagation of messages across synapses.

Although understanding the composition of a membrane and the four tiers of protein structure are vital to understanding both their function and their value in the transmission of signals between neurons, we felt that perhaps just a tad too much of our class time was spent on reviewing these topics instead of discussing for example, the details of the phases of an action potential pulse or an example of how concentrations of potassium or the voltage in the membrane can be calculated. With this being said, for those that are taking this course with a background that is not so heavily based in biology, it was necessary and understandable that some review of cell and molecular structures might need to be done.

This week was also our first quiz and although we did our best completing the required reading assignment and reviewing our notes it would have been nice to see the topics of the quiz be covered at least a little in the previous lecture. It also felt as if the questions were very heavily weighted toward one part of the reading material and not the other (which is okay) but then makes us wonder whether in the future the quizzes will only be based on the readings from Iiro’s book..?

We also had the opportunity this week to build a model brain during our exercise session which was a pretty fun and interactive way to get hands-on with the structures of the brain. We were also able to almost complete the homework assignment during this session which was really convenient although it did seem a little tedious to spend so much time directly copying tables from the textbook into the answer for the third problem. This might be a great way for certain people to learn information but maybe next time we could be given the option of whether to do this task during the session instead of have it be a requirement for the homework for the week? That way those of us who learn better through just reading them via the book could avoid spending so much time copying vocabulary.

Looking forward to seeing what will be discussed in next week’s lecture as we slowly start to connect the dots between the delicate structures and complex abilities of the human brain.

Learning Diary – Lecture 1

Bonjour, buongiorno, good morning,

Our first class in Structure and Operation of the Human Brain was this week, opening our school year with an introductory lecture. It’s a little bit hard for us to comment on the complete content of this first lecture since we spent approximately one half of the class (an hour or so) discussing the general organization of the course as well as introducing ourselves due to some technical difficulties. On the bright side, this allowed us to meet each other and learn of our varied backgrounds and interests which ended up highlighting that the brain is a topic of deep interest in most fields: engineering, physics, art etc. …

During the second half of the class we quickly covered a general overview of the brain. In order to be able to answer the more difficult questions in this course we first needed to consider the smallest unit of the brain: the neuron. We learned that neurons contain many of the same components as most other cells, for example the organelle which control a cell’s metabolism. Although the neuron is similar in composition to most other cells, it functions quite uniquely, allowing us to experience thoughts, memories, and reflect. But how does it do this?

As Life Sciences students we have acquired  some specific knowledge on the general machinery of the cell thanks to courses like Molecular and Cellular Biology. Because of this background, we might be able to apply some of these mechanisms to those unique to the neuron, for example understanding how a Na/K pump functions within the cell membrane might be useful to understand concepts related to the process of neural firing.

We understand that the brain works in a very specific way, different from all other cells, and it will be difficult to learn all of the related terminology. With this being said we are excited for this class and what is soon to be taught in the upcoming lectures!

Laura, Hugues, Leonardo