Week 6: Chemical Control of the Brain and Behaviour

The sixth week started with a lecture and a quiz about Chemical Control of the Brain and Behaviour. There were no new exercises but the deadline for exercises for week 2 was during this week. During next week there is no teaching, but after that we will have the first excursion. 

On the lecture 

On the lecture videos were used for teaching again. This was good, since even if the recording for the lecture was not successful, these videos can be viewed when studying for the exam or reviewing the topics of the lecture. During the lecture we had lots of interesting discussion about memory, memories and studies about them. It is always nice to hear about the studies. 

The exercises

There was no exercises for this week. This gave time for solving the exercises from previous weeks. There is quite long time until next exercise session, because after exam week during next three weeks there will be excursions instead of exercises.

At home

The main topics of the book were already discussed in previous blog post, and because of the upcoming examination week, we won’t study too much for the next quiz yet. 

Lecture slides were again available already before the lecture, which made preparing for the lecture easier. Next quiz and the lecture will be about auditory system. 

What did we learn?

The lecture was a good recap about the subjects we had already studied for the quiz. The videos shown in the lecture (links that were in the slides) really showed the importance of this week’s topic in reality. For example by watching the video of Parkinson’s disease, I learnt the symptoms of that disease and then the actual reasons behind it in the brain. Video also explained well what could be done to treat the disease. This kind of visualisations really give a big help in the learning process.

 

Posted by Sanna-Kaisa Kanerva

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Week 5: Neurotransmitter systems

The fifth week started with a lecture and a quiz about neurotransmitter systems. The exercises were about central nervous system disorders and reaction time.

On the lecture

The lecture started with a quiz. It was nice to notice that five minutes with a pen and paper in the classroom felt much longer than five minutes between other task when taking the quiz online. During the lecture we had couple of videos that demonstrate how the neurotransmitters bind to receptors at cellular membrane and affect to the behaviour of the cell. It is always nice to have different teaching methods, so one might find a new one that suits well for her. At least for us, understanding a  phenomenon from the video felt easier compared to learning from pictures or text. Because we were already familiar with the slides it was easier to follow the lecture.

The exercises

The exercises had this week a python program, which was yet again a new type of assignment on this course. Because all the exercises are very different compared to each other, it keeps things interesting.

At home

The lecture slides were available already before the lecture, which made it easier to get ready for this week’s lecture. At home we studied for a quiz, and learned about the topics from the book. There was also a deck of Brainscape cards for studying key concepts. The subject for next week’s quiz is the chemical control of the brain and behavior (chapter 15). Reading this chapter was particularly interesting, because it tights up some of the subjects we have learnt in the previous chapters. It also describes the actions in a larger scale, and not only the small details that the previous chapters mostly had. The book included some really interesting examples (eg. Addisons disease when too much cortisol vs. Cushing’s disease when low cortisol levels), which were really helpful in the learning process.

What did we learn?

This week’s topic was quite strongly related to the topic of week 3. At week 3 we learned the basic functioning of the chemical synapses and this week was more specifically about the different type of neurotransmitters used in the chemical  synapses, and how they will bind to receptors.

By reading the book for next week’s quiz, we learnt a lot of new things, and  especially the enteric division of ANS, “small brain” raised some thoughts. Enteric division is a neural system among the lining of the esophagus, stomach, intestines, pancreas, and gallbladder. It was something that we had heard about, but didn’t really know how wide network it is. It also raised some questions; calling it a “brain” is probably somewhat exaggerating, but can it still be (until some extend) compared to it? For example, a brain damage is a really serious matter and it’s usually difficult to recover from it completely (if at all), but the enteric division area is subject to a lot of changing conditions and surgical operations. How does it affect our enteric division’s nervous system, if person gets a sleeve gastrectomy surgery? Or suffers from bowel cancer and some of intestines have to be cut off? Or a person can survive with one kidney or without uterus – but how much does their absence affect the neuronal network? It would be very interesting the learn about the flexibility and the effects the enteric division of ANS actually has.

Posted by Ona Westerlund

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Week 4:From Signal Transfer to Sensing

Fourth week started with a quiz and a lecture, like the previous weeks. This week the lecture was filmed agan. The topic of the week is chemical senses, eye, and central visual system. The exercise session was about the topics of the lecture. 

On the lecture

The lecture consisted of things we had already read from the book for this week’s quiz: chemical senses, eye and central visual system. So it was a good recap and made it easier to memorize the most important things. Also some of the more complicated topics (eg. how taste cells work) were explained well, so it was easier to actually learn them compared to  just reading the book. On the lecture, it was recommended to search some information about the nobel prize received for olfactory system research at 2004. After reading the nobel prize website, it was so amazing how one would assume that all of these kind of things would have already been solved a long time ago, but yet there is still so much more to find out.

The exercises

This week’s exercise session also covered the chemical senses, eye and central visual system. All the assignments had an interesting viewpoint to the subject, which made it possible to really give a good thought for the answers and also learn a lot of new things while searching for the solutions. Especially the task about the foul taste in Runeberg’s tart was fun, and the recommended article “Genetics of Taste and Smell: Poisons and Pleasures by Danielle Renee Reed and Antti Knaapila” was really fascinating and presented the ideas in an easy and interesting way. It was interesting to learn, that for example coffee is a learnt flavor; it’s actually bitter and therefore causes a rejective response, but the good feeling the caffeine overcomes that taste. Also the information of how people exhibit differences in perceiving bitter chemicals was interesting to read about. So all in all, by doing this week’s exercises it was possible to learn a lot of new interesting things and fun facts about how the brain works. 

At home

There was no ready made flash cards for this week, and the quiz was about several chapters. Luckily the topics were interesting and there is a bit more time before the exercise deadline.

What did we learn?

This week gave a good recap for how the senses function but also gave a lot of new more detailed information. For example the function of the eye and the formation of an image was somewhat familiar to us already, but this week we learnt it even in greater detail. Also the first assignment at the exercise session – the comparison of human and octopus eye – really gave some new perspective and deepened our knowledge. For example the fact about blind spot in the human eyes was already familiar to us, but the exact reasons behind it were new, as well as the fact that octopus eye has a different structure and therefore doesn’t have blind spots. 

Posted by Ona Westerlund

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Week 3: From one neuron to another.

Third week started with a quiz about action potential and synaptic transmission, and after that also the lecture went through the main points about synaptic transmission and action potential. The exercise session was dedicated into learning the brain structure in a DIY style.

On the lecture

The  lecture continued where the last one ended. We started with, how the message travels through the neuron, and continued with how the signal will be  transferred to next neuron, synaptic transmission. The topic was already familiar to us from our previous studies, so the basics of it were easy to grasp, but the lecture had also new and more precise information.

The exercises

On this week’s exercise session we had a lecture about the brain structure, and at the same time we got to build a 3D brain model by ourselves. This was such an interesting,  refreshing and efficient way of learning, because building something yourself really helps in memorizing the locations of the different parts of the brain. And above all, it was fun! 

At home

The book was about same topics as the lecture. Now we have learned how a signal can travel through our body from one neuron to another, and within a neuron. The book gives us all the basics explained clearly. It also has lots of descriptive examples and fun facts that makes learning and remembering easier.

What did we learn?

This week we learnt the main parts of the brain and also some more detailed structures. It’s so interesting to learn which part of the brain is responsible for which task and how it all comes together as one complex, diverse organ which is able to control everything that happens in a human body.

During couple of last weeks we have been able to learn and revise how the nervous system functions on a cellular level, and how the signals travel within a neuron and from a neuron to another one. Even if this process was already relatively familiar for us, it was good to also revise the basics before new and less familiar topics. Naturally there was also lots of new information and fun facts that deepen our knowledge about the topic.

Posted by Ona Westerlund

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Week 2: How does a message travel through neutron? Why is this possible?

The second week started with a lecture and a quiz about the topics of this and previous week. Exercises started with a teaching session, and they will be returned after next week. 

On the lecture

The lecture was videoed, which makes it easy to revise the topics later, or learn about the topics if you were not able to attend. The lecture was mainly about neuron membrane, and action potential. The physics of the neuronal membrane, how it functions in rest and what will happen when a message is travelling through a neutron. Why is it possible that a message from the end of a dendrite will travel quickly to the end of the axon?

The exercises

In this weeks exercises, the search for the answers needed some deeper thinking of the subject and also gave us a good recap of what we had already read from the book. The exercise session was a good opportunity to ask help especially with the last task, which was slightly more challenging. We enjoyed that the exercises were really different: they included drawing, writing and calculating which gave a really versatile learning experience. Looking forward to building the brain next week!

At home

Practicing for the quiz was one motivation to study the topics of the lecture already at home. This will make following the topics of lecture easier and give good base for exercises. Studying for a quiz instead of an exam may emphasizes the importance of the terms and more precise questions, but it also makes learning the terms easier. This most likely makes studying and revising these topics later easier. It also made us actually think about the review questions instead of just reading through them.

What did we learn?

The action potential and neuronal membrane are subjects which have been taught earlier on other courses, but now they were gone through in slightly greater detail. The book had many good examples of different situations, one of the most interesting being the fact about the puffer fish, which toxin could selectively block the sodium channels and therefore be fatal if the fish is being eaten. It’s interesting to understand even the smallest details of these kind of examples and then learn the exact reasons why something like this happens. 

Understanding how the action potential happens and how neuronal membrane behaves, really helps to understand reasons behind the similar situations and to prevent them in the future. Action potential is absolutely one of the most important processes in the human body, since it really does affect everything.

Posted by Ona Westerlund

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Week 1: Starting the Course

During the first week we had only one lecture. Exercise sessions will start on the second week of the course and we will also have couple of excursions later on the course. We are keeping a learning diary (this blog) about the concepts and topics we learn and questions that may rise during the course.

On the lecture

On the first lecture we first went through the course arrangements and after that we started from the basic things about the brain. It was nice to see, that the course also had some topics we had already faced in our high school studies and in our earlier university courses, and now we will be given an opportunity to deepen our knowledge. Through the whole lecture we were able to ask questions through presemo, which opened some interesting conversations about the brain and its functioning. The main topics concerned tasks, physics, and the structure of the brain mainly on the cellular level. 

At home

Before and after the lecture we studied independently the topics from the book (Bear, Connors, Paradiso: Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain, 4th edition, Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2015). Everything was explained clearly but sometimes a bit lengthily. We also have virtual card deck in Brainscape about the key terms, that we can highly recommend for everyone who might have sometimes difficulties with concentration while reading the course book. Reading the book also made us think more of the animal testing perspective of the brain research, which is a topic we would be interested to learn and discuss more about.

What did we learn?

We were already familiar with how the cell works and what it consists of. But the deeper understanding of how the brain cells form and function is still something we don’t completely understand. Also understanding the reason why things work in the brain the way they do is still somewhat new to us.

All we learnt during the lecture and by reading the book is important, so that it will be easier to deepen our knowledge in the upcoming lectures and exercise sessions. Also from a general perspective, the more you learn about the brain structure and operation, the easier it makes to understand brain’s functioning when suffering from eg. disease. Overall the course seemed very interesting, and we’re looking forward to learning a lot more of this topic.

Posted by Sanna-Kaisa Kanerva

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