Week 6 of learning neuroscience

This week’s lectures topics were extremely interesting as in addition to learning how the brain normally works we learned about what happens in the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s disease. This also reminds us about the importance of studying neuroscience. It was also interesting to learn more about neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine that most people have a basic idea of their function. For example, for one of our team members it was new that serotonin also affects wakefulness and not only mood.

One of our team members is still struggling a bit with remembering all the details about neurotransmitters and their pathways. Studying neuroscience differs drastically from her bachelor studies major, which makes it challenging as on top of learning neuroscience learning new studying techniques is also necessary to succeed.

In our opinion, the Youtube videos during the lecture worked well in explaining the topics in a simple and understandable manner. These videos and other similar ones will for sure be useful when revising for the exam in December or independent studying.

Questions:

Do you think it will be possible to cure neurodegenarative diseases in the future?

What are the main reasons that current treatment options are not better? Lack of understanding the disease? Difficulties in development, e.g. crossing blood-brain barrier?

Posted by Maria Rajakenttä

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Week 5 of learning neuroscience

This week we learned about neurotransmitter systems. Neurotransmitters are substances that convey signals between neurons. There is around a hundred different neurotransmitters, but they are categorized to three major classes: amino acids, amines and peptides. The exact chemical reactions that neurotransmitters cause are various and complicated but the primary effects are simple: they either excite or inhibit the postsynaptic cell. Excitatory neurotransmitters make an axon potential in the postsynaptic cell more likely and inhibitory neurotransmitters try to prevent it. A neuron can receive multiple exciting and inhibiting signals at the same time and the sum of these signals determines if the axon potential is initiated or not.

Just so this would not be too easy neurotransmitters can cause secondary cascade effects. These effects are slower and can have multiple steps like a chain reaction. These long chains of second messenger cascades can amplify the signal and affect multiple receivers.

Neurotransmitters are an essential part of brain function. Lack or malfunction of neurotransmitters can lead to mental disorders. It is important to know how neurotransmitters work to understand human brain and help people with disorders. This is definitely an area I would like to study more and get a more practical approach on what can cause malfunction of neurotransmitters and how to heal it.

Posted by Jaakko Salmenkylä

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Week 4 of learning neuroscience : the taste, the smell and the vision

For this week of neuroscience, the lecture topics were the following : the chemical senses, the eye and the central visual system.

Chemical senses comprise the taste and the smell. Taste, or gustation, is the simplest among the senses with just five basic tastes, namely saltiness, sourness, sweetness, bitterness and umami. Most of the tastes have simple transduction pathways, though bitterness has multiple different receptors involved. Smell, also called olfaction, is much more complex as there are around a thousand types of receptors that can detect countless different odorant molecules. Vision is an extremely interesting sense, there is an immense amount of information received constantly. Processing that information begins at the eye itself and continues in different parts of the brain.

This week, we did not have an exercise session. The lecture was less interactive than the previous one but a game was introduced to us called Eyewire. This game enables to visualize neuron shapes and the structure of different cells involved in vision. During the lecture we saw the example of ganglion cells using this game.

It is very interesting to study in detail how our senses work, since it is something familiar to us that we experience every day. Indeed, action potential or synaptic transmission may seem quite abstract since when these events happen, we only perceive the consequences of them such as our body movements, whereas we are conscious of our senses since they are directly related to the perception of a molecule or light for example.

Posted by Alice Klein

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Blog 1

This was our second week of learning about structure and operation of the human brain. All our learning happens remotely due to the global pandemic. While studying remotely is organised well and there have been only minimal technical difficulties, it is not the same as learning on site. It is especially hard to be proactive during online exercise sessions.

The topics of this week were the basic structure of a neuron and action potential. A lot of the topics were already familiar to at least some of us. For an example we knew about the basic structure of a neuron with axon and dendrites. Our previous knowledge was complemented with more detailed information, like the Nernst Equation to calculate the equilibrium potential for a specific ion. Some things were also completely new for us like glial cells and their role in nervous system. It’s funny how we had never heard about such an important part of our brain!

Overall, the basic function of neurons and action potential is relatively clear for us. Hardest part is remembering all the new terms such as names of specific parts of a neuron. The book is reasonably good at explaining concepts and there’s plenty of pictures to visualize it all. However, a few times it seems to lose track. For instance, in the chapter about the neuronal membrane at rest, some very basic concepts such as ions are explained with detail. Maybe it’s required if the reader has no background in physics or chemistry, but we found it boring and distracting from the real topic. We also wish that the lecture slides were a bit more detailed, so we could use them to remind ourselves of the most important concepts.

At the end we have a few questions for the experts.

What is the main function of the nodes of Ranvier in myelinating glia and can the size of a node vary?

Why was the membrane potential at rest calculated only considering the permeability of the membrane for K+ and Na+ ions without considering Ca2+ and Cl-? Is the membrane at rest completely impermeable to these two ions?

What kind of signals initiate protein synthesis in the nucleus? How does the DNA know which proteins are needed?

Posted by Jaakko Salmenkylä

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