Understanding how the nervous system develops is one of the most fundamental and most exciting challenges in biology. As in other tissues, there is a diversity of cell types but what makes the nervous system work is the pattern of interconnections between these cell types.
This module examines how intrinsic and extrinsic cues lead to the development of functional circuits that allow the nervous system to adapt to a changing environment. A particular feature of the module is that it will expose the student to key areas of research in the field. Not only will it allow them to understand how research questions are generated and then investigated experimentally, but it will also ask what questions remain to be answered.
In the course of the module, students will learn about the specification of the nervous system that first arises in the embryo and then the progressive patterning of the embryonic brain and spinal cord. The control of neurogenesis and neuronal migration is crucial to normal development and the students will be introduced to different model systems. Central to the formation of functional circuits is the guidance of growth cones to their targets. The students will be able to discuss the diversity of guidance mechanisms and of associated signalling processes: is current research providing any generalising principles. Having reached the appropriate targets, the correct circuits have to be established. The students will be able to explore the cues driving this from the level of the synapse to the cortical column. Finally, the students will evaluate the therapeutic importance of the field from neuro-developmental disorders to the stem cell rescue of damaged circuits. The strong emphasis on current research in the field will enable the students to understand how complex problems of development and of neurobiology can be dissected into answerable questions.
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