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Subject Summary

The course deals with the action of chemical substances on biological materials and thus has roots in both the physical and biological sciences. The first part of the course will be concerned with understanding, at the molecular level, how receptors work. These lectures will examine the fundamental processes of molecular recognition and then consider in detail how, having recognised a drug, receptors are able to generate a signal that changes cellular activity. Following a detailed consideration on synaptic pharmacology, lectures will introduce the use of drugs to produce selective inhibition of bacteria, parasitic protozoa, and viruses.

The first term will conclude with lectures on growth of mammalian cells, cancer and anticancer drugs. The second and third terms will emphasize the importance of combining molecular and cellular biology with more traditional pharmacological approaches. Lectures will focus on processes that control the distribution and fate of drugs in our body, with a lecture on general anaesthetics as an example. This is followed by lectures on drugs that influence the function of the central nervous system. The second term will conclude with lectures in which molecular characteristics of ion channels will be combined with essential physiology to explain drug actions on the heart. The third term will focus on drugs that control inflammation and immune responses. This is followed by two lectures on drug discovery.

Guidance for revision will be provided for students who have not taken Part IA Physiology of Organisms.

In the first term, a series of practicals and virtual seminars complement the lectures by providing practical experience of basic techniques and illustrating important points. In the second term, most of the conventional practicals are replaced by a drug research project lasting for several sessions. In these you will have the opportunity to research a drug in detail and prepare a 3 min video presentation on your findings. 

Programme Specification

This course is taught by the Department of Pharmacology.


This course aims to:

  1. offer a course of lectures in the qualitative aspects of Pharmacology;
  2. offer practical and virtual exercises in the quantitative aspects of Pharmacology;
  3. assess student progress and attainment by formal examinations drug review video presentation.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course students should be able to:

  1. explain the principles of ligand-receptor interaction, local and intracellular messengers and integration of signalling pathways;
  2. identify the major classes of drug receptors and sites of drug action within the body;
  3. identify typical examples of drugs which are used to restore physiological functions in the cardiovascular, renal, respiratory, digestive, peripheral nervous and central nervous systems;
  4. demonstrate an understanding of the use of drugs to control inflammation and immune responses or to kill bacteria, viruses or malignant cells;
  5. apply the basic principles that govern the absorption, distribution and elimination of drugs to predict the time course of drug concentrations in the body and consider the implications of these principles for the therapeutic use of drugs;
  6. recognize the fundamental methods used in pharmacological research and be able to use basic pieces of research equipment.

Teaching and Learning Methods

These include lectures, practical classes, and seminars.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • one unseen written examinations (for aim 1 and learning outcomes 1-5);
  • one unseen practical examination (for aim 2 and learning outcomes 1, 5 and 6);
  • presentation of a 3 minute video with data gathered during a drug review project  (for aim 3 and learning outcomes 1-6).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: A Level Biology and/or Chemistry.

Recommended: Part IA of the NST, including any of Biology of Cells, Chemistry or Physiology of Organisms.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.