Week 6

This week had a similar structure as the previous ones except that there was no exercise session for Tuesday. On Monday we begun with a quiz like before and this time there was only one chapter for studying. Sometimes the preparation for quizzes has been quite tough because the work must be done on weekends with numerous pages to be read. This time the workload was okay and we think we managed to study the chapters quite well. Also we think this might have been the first time none of the questions in the quiz were from review questions from the end of the book chapter although the questions there required quite long answers.

Chapter 15 dealt with chemical control of the brain and behavior. On the lecture we took a look at different neurotransmitter related pathways. It is useful to categorize different brain areas by the neurotransmitter used. For example we concentrated in the differences of acetylcholinergic and dopamine pathways. Also we returned to similar topics with the exercise two as we studied, which neurotransmitters are active in specific brain structures. In our opinion this recap came in a good spot as we’ve forgotten many of the studied brain areas and structures. For example we learned that Substantia nigra, striatum and nucleus accumbens are related to dopamine pathways. Also we learned that the first stages of Alzheimer’s occur because of the death of acetylcholine producing cells in the acetylcholinergic pathways a bit similarly as Parkinson’s disease is due to loss of dopamine producing cells in the Substantia nigra structure. Much of the topics we studied for the quiz were new information but there was something familiar too like the relation between pituitary and hypothalamus.

On the lecture we abruptly examined the differences between catecholaminergic substances. We already knew that dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline have similar origins but it came as a little surprise that their chemical structures are that similar. We are looking forward to the excursions, which might well be the most useful take from this course after all as we should probably begin planning for the future after university.

  • Pekko & Maria

Week 5: Chemical control of the brain

Been over a month since we started this course and we can say we have learned quite a lot about the functioning of the brain already. While last week we read chapter 6 which covered the functions of neurotransmitters in depth, this week’s lecture was based on that. We saw a few simple videos demonstrating the action of different types of post-synaptic receptors. They were very easy to understand and solidified knowledge that we already learned earlier in the course. We saw how ligand gated channels work by opening gates upon a neurotransmitter binding to its receptors.

We also saw how secondary messengers work with the help of a g-protein and the production of cAMP from ATP.

Rewatching the video on the cause of depression with sound was very interesting and new. We learned that depression is caused by the lack of enough neurotransmitter Serotonin and Noradrenaline and so anti-depressant drugs block the re-uptake channel of the post-synaptic neuron increasing the concentration of these neurotransmitters in the synaptic cleft.

This week’s reading is based on chapter 15 which we have started to read already. The chapter informed about the role of the hypothalamus and how vast its functions are in the human body. While we already had an idea about what functions the hypothalamus is responsible for and its location in the brain, this chapter goes in depth into the actual implementation.

The chapter mentions that the hypothalamus controls the pituitary gland which controls a lot of human behaviour and functionalities, making it the “master gland” of the human body.

The chapter briefly talks about the effects of stress on the brain which was interesting to read. Apparently prolonged stress can cause premature ageing of the brain. This is a good motivation to take time throughout the day to destress and take time to relax.

– M & P

So we got our exercise 1 results this week! A bit disappointed with the results since the questions were not so specific but the answers were required to be specific. Was a little confused with what was required so did not get full marks for the exercise although this could be the easiest exercise for this class. Well, this tells me about how I should modify my submission for the next exercise to include more detail and go more in-depth to score higher points.

Have not started the exercises after the second since the deadlines are quite far away, although with a quick peek they seem quite interesting and interactive (the reaction time one)

– M


Week 4

This week we had to read quite a lot of pages in preparation for the quiz (from chapter 8 to 10). It was pretty time consuming but gained a lot of knowledge about the role of neurones in detection of taste and light. Again, the ten word or less principle seemed quite awful in our opinion and hope that points will not be deducted for exceeding the limit.

Since the quizzes are held on Monday mornings, the preparation work is usually done on Sundays which is a nuisance. However, the quiz preparation have found to be quite useful in learning and keeping track of the course topics.

There is a lot of excitement for the excursions this week. Hoping it is as interesting as expected. Since the deadlines for the new exercises are quite far in the future and there is a lot of pending work from other courses with upcoming deadlines, decision has been made to not attempt the new exercises yet.

Week 3 – Lecture 3 and trillions of brain structures

This week begun similarly with the previous one: we had a quiz. The quiz was about chapters four and five from the book and the topics included the action potential as a whole and synaptic transmissions. This time we had only five minutes to finish the quiz and some of the questions had a word limit of ten words which didn’t feel practical at all. This might have resulted in a worse performance than in the first quiz.

There were a lot of old and familiar information but also new. Basic properties of action potential; dividing it into phases of depolarization, repolarization and hyperpolarization and the fact that action potential transforms into a chemical form between neurons in the synaptic clefts was old information but a recap was useful because we had forgotten many details of this chain of events. Furthermore, the difference between agonists and antagonists was a useful recap and this topic as a whole is something to look forward to as the function of many modern day medicines are based on the manipulation of synaptic transmission.

The differences between resting membrane potentials in different cell types was new information for us although afterwards it seems quite obvious. We also found it interesting that the difference in the size of the diameter has such a big effect on the conduction velocity of an action potential. Myelin sheath obviously has a great influence but it was difficult to understand how the thickness of myelin makes a difference. We also learned about different types of synaptic transmission and whether the transmission is excitatory or inhibitory. An interesting example of inhibition was that hangovers are caused by body trying to excite the over inhibition of neurons after drinking alcohol. Learning about shunting inhibition and how to kill an action potential was new as well and quite interesting.  Finally, the production mechanism of different neurotransmitter was new for us. It was fascinating to see that some of the neurotransmitter are actually created in the soma and how this chain of events leads to a complete product.

On Tuesday we had a brain composition session which supported our learning of different brain areas. This week had an exercise where we had to identify trillions of brain areas and structures. We think that the main input from this weeks exercises was that flash cards are going to be useful in our learning process of brain anatomy.

  • Pekko and Maria

Week 2 – Lecture 2 + Chapters 3-4

Week 2 lecture began with the first quiz based on chapters 2 & 3. The exam was quite short and easy. We did get 2 extra points for being present so that was a nice surprise.

After the quiz in the class, we spent some time going over the questions asked in presemo during the previous lecture. It was nice to see the presemo questions being properly addressed with concise and focused answers. One of the students asked about the book about free will and it was good to receive the answer to that question since some of us were curious about it as well.

Following that, we learnt about action potentials and its role in neuroscience. The subjects were quite familiar from lessons in high school biology so it was a nice refresher for those of us who have not used this knowledge in the past few years. We learnt about reflex actions, the resting membrane potentials and the structure of the cell membrane including the membrane proteins.

Moreover, we went into more detail about the process of a neurone impulse which was new knowledge for some of us. We saw that the threshold for action potential and how the magnitude of the spike remains the same but only the rate at which it is fired differs. This provoked a thought about how all humans feel the same amount of pain but the rate of it and the time period of how long the pain last differs based on the source. Also it is interesting to know that mental pain feels exactly the same as physical pain and it could even be more “painful” since mental pain could last longer and be triggered more often than physical pain.

Moving on this week’s exercise session, we felt the workload was manageable and the derivation of the Nernst equation was intriguing. While the exercise included information that we already learnt in high school, such as the structure of a neurone, classification of glial cells, description of action potentials and the function of myelination, it also included new knowledge such as the calculation of equilibrium potentials for ion with the Nernst equation, the velocities of action potentials and the delays in synaptic clefts.

So far, a key challenge for some of us with a Finnish background has been language, since, all the terms and phenomena were taught to us in Finnish language, hence it adds a bit of work to translate it all to English. It happens often that the content seems unfamiliar but upon translating, we realise it was familiar information after all.

On the other hand, for those of us without a Neuroscience background, for example with a Computer Science background, there is a bit of extra work revising through old topics that were taught in high school and not used at all in the past 5 years. Even so, it is very exciting and interesting to be able to apply this knowledge again.

– Maria & Pekko

Week 1 – Course introduction and chapters 2-3

The first week begun with an introduction lecture and we also learned about the basic properties of neurons. In the beginning the lecturers shared their thoughts on the importance of brain research and we got an overall summary of the required actions on the course. The latter part of the lecture dealt mostly with basic functions of neurons.

Every week the lecture starts with a short quiz in the beginning and students are expected to prepare for these quizzes by reading given chapters from the course book. The first quiz is about chapters two and three: Neurons and Glia along with The Neuronal Membrane at Rest. These topics were already quite familiar for both of us since we’ve explored the basic functions of neurons and membrane potentials on previous courses as well as in high school. Of course we quickly realized that the text book had more specific descriptions on the topics. We found the classification of neurons and naming of different parts of the axon interesting as well as the introduction of stellate, pyramidal, spiny and aspinious cells. Furthermore, classifying of glia cells widened our knowledge. Previously we mainly only knew the names of different glia cells and whether they operated in the central or peripheral nervous system.

We’re looking forward to getting more information on the neurotransmitters and their influence on developing disorders and diseases. Also the chemical control of the brain and its impact on behavior is something that sounds intriguing.

–  Pekko and Maria