Synaptic Plasticity and Memory, from Molecules to Behavior >> Content Detail




7.03 Genetics
7.05 General Biochemistry
7.06 Cell Biology
7.28 Molecular Biology

Course Summary

How do we find our favorite store in the mall? And how do we remember where we parked our car? By using simple animal models and sophisticated electrophysiological, biochemical and molecular biological methods, neuroscientists over the past 40 years have found fascinating answers to these questions. In this course we will discover how innovative technologies combined with profound hypotheses have given rise to our current understanding of neuroscience. We will study both new and classical primary research papers with a focus on the plasticity between synapses in a brain structure called the hippocampus, which is believed to underlie the ability to create and retrieve certain classes of memories. We will discuss the basic electrical properties of neurons and how they fire. We will see how firing properties can change with experience, and we will study the biochemical basis of these changes. We will learn how molecular biology can be used to specifically change the biochemical properties of brain circuits, and we will see how these circuits form a representation of space giving rise to complex behaviors in living animals. A special emphasis will be given to understanding why specific experiments were done and how to design experiments that will answer the questions you have about the brain.

The course consists of weekly meetings during which primary research papers will be discussed. These papers will be introduced in the previous meeting and should be read prior to the class. Each week one or two questions will be distributed with the papers. Brief answers to the questions should be emailed to the instructor by the evening prior to discussion of the papers. The classes are designed to promote discussion of the papers. Students will be expected to be able to explain the material in the papers.


The course has a pass/fail grade. To pass, students are expected to attend class, demonstrate fluency in the course material, and complete the assignments described on the Assignments page.


2Scientific reading, writing and learning mechanisms of simple invertebratesCake assignment due
3Synaptic plasticity in rodent hippocampal slices
4Molecular mechanisms underlying LTP
5Complicating the model of LTP
6The Morris water maze
7Place cellsLiterature search assignment due
8Field trip
9NMDA receptors and place cells
10Hippocampal representation of space in contextual fear conditioning
11Synaptic taggingEssay due
12Other aspects of place cells
13Does LTP really happen in the brain?
14Schemas' of memory


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