BMS236 Building Nervous Systems (20 Credits)



This module aims to provide students with knowledge and understanding of the key facts and principles that underlie the development of nervous systems and furthermore how selected sub-systems i.e. motor control and visual, formed through such mechanisms function in the mature organism. The module will also provide a foundation for the in depth discussion of neural development and pathology at Level 3, and highlight the utility of simple animal models such as Drospophila and Zebrafish in driving forward our understanding of human disease and developmental abnormalities.


The module will consist of a series of lectures and practicals covering the following areas:

  • Comparative nervous systems.
  • Induction, patterning and cell fate determination in the nervous system.
  • Transmitters and excitability.
  • Development of cerebral and cerebellar cortices.
  • Development of sense organs.
  • Growth and guidance of axons, and the establishment of topographic maps.
  • Synaptogenesis.
  • Neurotrophic factors.
  • Cell death in the developing nervous system.
  • Stabilization of synapses.
  • Neural stem cells and regeneration in the mature nervous system.
  • Systems neuroscience
  • Motor control and basal ganglia
  • Plasticity in mature systems.
  • The visual system
  • Module tutorial.


By the end of the unit, a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the key structures and events in the induction and development of the nervous system in model systems, e.g. Drosophila, Zebra fish, rats, mice, and relate them to those of Man.
  • Recall the role of germinal zones in the production of neural cells.
  • Describe the lineages of neuronal and non-neuronal cells.
  • Appreciate the fact of and processes involved in cell migration and lamination.
  • Give key mechanisms involved in process formation, guidance, synapse formation and elimination.
  • Remark on the phenomenon of cell death in the developing nervous system.
  • Comment on the roles of neurotrophins.
  • Note the importance and nature of cell-cell communications involved in the establishment of form and function in the nervous system.
  • Compare developmental processes to those involved in nervous system regeneration.
  • Indicate how the study of the developmental process in model systems has and may lead to improvements in the understanding of some human diseases.
  • Note and describe peripheral and central aspects of motor control from fundamental aspects of muscle action to the role of the basal ganglia.
  • Discuss the mechanisms of sensory reception and information processing in the visual system.
  • Note the links between physiological events in single cells and simple behaviours in model organisms from invertebrates to mammals.
  • Relate physiological mechanisms to key aspects of learning and memory.

Teaching Methods:

Teaching will be provided through lectures and practical classes. Lectures will provide students with core knowledge and understanding of the key facts and principles noted above for all outcomes. Practical classes will demonstrate fundamental aspects of muscle, and motor and sensory physiology.  Finally, the end-of-module tutorial session will provide a forum for discussion of student questions and assessment advice.


80% of the module mark will come from a formal exam, containing two components: a MCQ to test facts, knowledge and understanding of concepts learned in lectures, practical classes and independent study; an essay testing the students ability to integrate and synthesise information, and to discuss contemporary ideas in developmental neurobiology, plasticity, and motor and sensory systems. 20% of the module mark will come from a written laboratory report (Practical 1 Nerve Conduction; 1000 words). This will test the ability of students to present and report experimental data in a clear and accurate manner, as well as their ability to analyse and interpret data. The report must be submitted in at the Semester 1B hand in session.