PSL1072H Advanced Topics: The Neural Basis for Sensation

Course Coordinator:

S. Prescott


This seminar style course provides students with in-depth knowledge of the neural basis for sensation.  By discussing several sensory systems (visual, auditory, olfactory, somatosensory), students will extract general principles of sensory coding while identifying features that are unique to each system.  Discussions will be framed in the context of neural coding - how is sensory input represented, e.g. by the rate or timing of action potentials?  Concepts from information theory and Bayesian inference are transforming how sensory coding is conceptualized, and will therefore be discussed, but with minimal emphasis on the underlying math.  The organization of neural circuits will be another focus of discussion given the role of circuits in mediating many aspects of sensory coding.  Final presentations are designed to challenge students to think creatively and apply their newly acquired knowledge to address contemporary problems in clinical medicine and engineering.   Overall, students will be exposed to the transdisciplinary frontiers of neuroscience and will become more adept at exploring those frontiers as part of their own research.

The course consists of 13 two-hour sessions.  Each student will present two papers from a list selected to cover topics identified in the schedule: the presenter will give a 25 minute PowerPoint presentation in which he/she summarizes the paper, including the starting hypothesis, appropriateness of the methodology/experimental design, and main findings and their implications.  Each student will also be lead discussant on two papers; the lead discussant will initiate the post-presentation discussion by highlighting important conclusions drawn from the paper, especially those conclusions that may be contentious (i.e. play devil's advocate).  Therefore, each paper will have a presenter and a lead discussant who, together with the coordinator, will facilitate the ensuing discussion involving the remaining students.  At the end of each session, the coordinator will review the key learning points, integrate these with previous learning points, and identify learning points to bear in mind for the following week's papers.  All students are to read each paper and participate in the discussion.  The presenter and discussant will each provide a short (half page) written report for each assigned paper at the start of class. 


None required.
Note: PSL440Y/JNS1000Y are recommended courses.


Grading will be based on: 

a) 35% for presentation of two papers (15% for paper #1; 20% for paper #2)

b) 20% for discussant critiques of two papers (8% for paper 1; 12% for paper #2

c) 15% for final presentation (oral component)

d) 20% final report (written component);

e) 10% for participation (discussion of unassigned papers; questions during student presentations).