skip to primary navigationskip to content


Subject Summary: Part IB Neurobiology

This course is an interdepartmental collaboration between four biological departments (Pharmacology; Physiology, Development and Neuroscience; Psychology; Zoology). It aims to provide a unified approach to the teaching of neurobiology at Part IB level.

The lecture course begins at the cellular and molecular level with the electrical and chemical properties of individual neurons. It next examines the major sensory systems: vision, hearing, olfaction and taste, and somatosensation and pain. The motor system and sensorimotor integration is then explored in detail followed by consideration of the mechanisms underlying development of the nervous system, the origin of neuronal types and neuronal architecture, and the way that connections between neurons develop and are regulated. The modulation of synaptic activity is then discussed, followed by motivation and emotion at the end of the Lent term. The Easter term lectures are devoted to learning, memory and higher functions of the nervous system, including language. A wide range of experimental techniques and approaches is explored in the practical classes including: neural activity in frog nerve and synapse, and cockroach sensory nerves; computer simulation of neural activity; neural development in zebrafish; the genetic basis of neural function in the nematode C. elegans; human sensory and motor function; brain anatomy and histology; brain imaging; and neuropsychological assessment. One aim of the practical classes is to provide hands-on experience of a variety of the experimental techniques that are used in modern neurobiology: from microscopy, through single-neuron recordings, to stimulation and extracellular recordings from your own nerves and muscles, and finally to psychophysical measurements of human sensory and cognitive performance.

Programme Specification: Part IB Neurobiology

This course is taught jointly by the Departments of Experimental Psychology; Pharmacology; Physiology, Development and Neuroscience and Zoology.


  1. to provide a broad introduction to the nervous system;
  2. to introduce students to the scientific concepts underlying the study of neural phenomena;
  3. to provide an understanding of the principles underlying cellular, molecular, developmental, sensory, motor and cognitive neurobiology;
  4. to prepare students for those Part II courses that contain substantial components of neuroscience.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should:

  1. have an enhanced knowledge and appreciation of neurobiology, appropriate for a future career in biology or for advanced study at Part II level;
  2. be familiar with a wide range of experimental techniques in neurobiology;
  3. be able to develop cogent and critical arguments based on the course material;
  4. be able to integrate related topics in cellular, molecular, developmental, sensory, motor and cognitive neurobiology.

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, practical classes and supervisions.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • two unseen written examinations, based on the content of the lecture course (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 1-4);
  • one practical examination, based on practical work conducted throughout the year (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 1-4).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None.

Recommended: one biological subject from NST Part IA, particularly Physiology of Organisms.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.