PSL1050H - Advanced Topics: The Hippocampus from Cell to Behaviour

Course Coordinator: G. Collingridge

The link between cellular mechanisms, such as synaptic plasticity and animal behaviour, such as learning, is still elusive, but researchers are beginning to bridge the gap. One approach is to build computational or conceptual models made up of modules with each module corresponding to a cellular element. The functional contribution of each module to the system (the animal) can then be tested by experimental manipulation. Clarity of ideas is greatly enhanced when this experimentation is guided by predictions (right or wrong) from a computational approach. Ultimately, the convergence of experimental and computational approaches will lead to better understanding of how various parts of the brain contribute to a behaviour.

Links between cellular and systems neuroscience are difficult to grasp for researchers and are completely out of reach for students. This course will teach students how to extract information from one research level to be applicable to another level. In order to make the task of linking the cellular events with behaviour more manageable, the course will introduce intermediate levels of analysis.

The course will begin with analysis of neuronal properties that are thought to be important for neuronal plasticity. This will include activity-dependent changes in membrane properties and synaptic transmission. Next, we will discuss the essential elements of neuronal circuits such as feed-forward and feed-back mechanisms as well as balance of excitation and inhibition. From the circuit level we will progress to the systems level and discuss how one can experimentally manipulate the circuits to learn about the functions of the system.

We will focus on hippocampal learning behaviour throughout the course, because of its prominence in the literature and comparatively well understood mechanisms. It is essential to keep the breadth of the course relatively narrow (“only the hippocampus”) in order to cover the topic in sufficient depth (from molecules to humans). However, the computational and experimental approaches, as well as the logic of the arguments, will be applicable to other systems in the brain and in other systems within the body.

The course will reach beyond animal experimentation and show how findings in animals are applicable to humans. Hippocampal structure and function is essentially the same in primates and rodents allowing for meaningful extrapolation of results from animals to humans. Moreover, with new imaging methods it is now possible to experiment on human subjects and derive hypotheses that are further testable in animals. The gap between species can be further narrowed with the use of computational modeling.
Individual Presentations - 50% Each student will present two research papers (25% each) at different levels of analysis and explain out how they can be bridged together.

Group Presentation – 25% group presentations (3-4 students in each group) giving account of at least three levels of organization and explaining how the hippocampal system works to produce a behaviour. These presentations are expected to be multimedia and well organized.

Written component – 10% Commentary, including a single half-page illustration (Nature News and Views style), will be required from each non-presenting student, after each group presentation.

Class participation – 15% Students will be assigned papers for questions and required to participate in discussions.

Some neuroscience background is beneficial.

Course Enrollment is limited to 10 students. Graduate students are invited to enroll in this course on ROSI; final registration approval will be made by the course coordinator.  All students will be notified of their registration status by the Physiology Graduate Office.

Other Teaching Faculty:
Z-P. Jia

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