Nsci4100: Development of the Nervous System

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Director:    Steven McLoon

When:        Fall Semester

Monday, Wednesday and Friday


Where:        Moos 2-620

Credits:    3

Prerequisites: A basic knowledge of cell biology and/or biochemistry as covered in Bioc 3021, Bioc4331 or a comparable course is recommended.

A basic knowledge of neuroscience as covered in Nsci 3101 is helpful. Many students take it concurrently.

Students: This course is appropriate for advanced students majoring in biological sciences. The course was designed for neuroscience majors. Biological sciences and IT students in other disciplines have liked this course and done well. Many previous students have reported that this course was an excellent preparation for the first year of medical or graduate school.

Objectives: This course will extend students’ understanding of fundamental concepts of biology and neuroscience through study of the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie development of the nervous system. Neurodevelopment provides a context in which to study processes active in many biological functions and diseases. Students will learn about each of the major cellular processes involved in development of the nervous system such as cell division and cell migration, and will learn about the function of molecules and signaling pathways active in each process. Human developmental pathologies will be studied as a means to better understand normal developmental processes. Some lectures will focus on current research, and students will be expected to read some scientific literature.

Website:    You found it! Bookmark it now.

[Note that usefull information and important announcements are posted as issues arise on the 'Course News' page of this website.]

Textbooks: required

Development of the Nervous System, 3rd edition

by Sanes, Reh and Harris

(The library has an ebook version of the Sanes book available [link])

recommended (but do not buy it if you do not already have it)

Neuroscience, 5th edition

by Purves et al.

(See schedule for specific reading assignments.)

Lecture notes: Available for download as PDFs via links on the ‘Schedule’ page of the course website generally two days before a lecture.

Students are expected to complete the following during the semester:

1. Attend all classes.

2. Complete the assigned readings prior to each class.

3. Complete the three small group discussion exercises.

4. Complete two midterm examinations and a final examination.

Examinations: Two midterm exams will be given during the course as listed on the course schedule. A final exam will be given during finals week at a day and time determined by the University. All exams will be multiple choice. The final exam will be cumulative, with a greater emphasis on the lectures since the last midterm exam. Links to examinations from previous years can be found on the ‘Schedule’ page of the course website.

The class period will be extended for exams. See the ‘Course Schedule’ for details.

Missed examinations with a valid and verified excuse can be made up by taking an oral and written exam with an instructor within one week of the regularly scheduled exam. Contact Professor McLoon as soon as possible after a missed exam to schedule a make-up.

Discussions: Students are to read the assigned journal articles prior to the day of each discussion. Small groups of students (assigned by the faculty) will discuss the article with the aim of answering certain questions. A discussion report with the answers to each question is to be turned in by each group at the class period following the discussion. Students who have not read the assigned article may not participate in the discussion. The discussion questions are available on the course website as is a link to a PDF of each article for discussion. [link to discussion report form]

Grades:     A-F will be based on students’ performance on each of the three examinations and the group discussion projects. The midterm exams will count approximately 25% each, the final exam will count approximately 40%, and the group discussion project will count 10% of the class grade. Grades will be curved with the median grade centered on ‘B’.

Grades will be determined separately for undergraduate and graduate students based on the relative performance of each cohort.

Lecturers:   Dr. Steven McLoon (mcloons@umn.edu)

Dr. Yasushi Nakagawa (nakagawa@umn.edu)

Dr. Paul Letourneau (letou001@umn.edu)

Dr. Lorene Lanier (guest) (lanie002@umn.edu)

Dr. Laura Gammill (guest) (gammi001@umn.edu)

Dr. Michael Georgieff (guest) (georg001@umn.edu)

Dr. Lihsia Chen (guest) (chenx260@umn.edu)

Office hours: Professor McLoon and other faculty will hold a ‘coffee hour’ most weeks. The day, time and place of the coffee hour will vary from week to week. Details for each coffee hour will be announced in class and posted on ‘Coffee Hour’ page on the course website. All students are encouraged to stop by and say “hello”.


  Make an appointment by email to meet in Professor McLoon's office (4-158 Jackson).

Advice:  Be sure to read the comments from previous students on the course website. [link]

Copyrights: All course material including the audio of lectures, lecture slides, lecture notes, exams and handouts are the sole property of the course instructors and may not be reproduced or distributed in any form without the specific written permission of the relevant instructor with the exception of sharing course information among current classmates for the duration of the course.

Cell phones: Turn off all cell phones during lectures. If you forget and your phone rings during a lecture, then silence the ring immediately and do not answer the call.

 Students may not have cell phones accessible or visible during examinations.

Scholastic Dishonesty: You know what this is. Don’t do it! If you do, you will receive an ‘F’ grade for the course, which cannot be removed from your transcript by dropping the course.

Disability Accommodations: Talk with Dr. McLoon right away, and we will make every effort to accommodate all disabilities.

Mental health & Stress Management: As a student you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning, such as strained relationships, increased anxiety, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, difficulty concentrating and/or lack of motivation. These mental health concerns or stressful events may lead to diminished academic performance or reduce a student's ability to participate in daily activities. University of Minnesota services are available to assist you with addressing these and other concerns you may be experiencing. You can learn more about the broad range of confidential mental health services available on campus via http://www.mentalhealth.umn.edu/.

Synopsis:   During development of the nervous system, a great diversity of neuronal types is generated. Each neuronal type is defined by morphological, physiological and biochemical characteristics. Neurons also develop complex and precise patterns of interconnections. Normal function of the mature nervous system depends on normal development of these features. This course will examine our current knowledge of how these features develop. General cellular and molecular mechanisms along with the experimental data demonstrating the mechanisms will be emphasized rather than a detailed account of specific developmental events. The following diagram outlines the major processes involved in development of the nervous system. The diagram indicates the approximate sequence of the processes, which is the sequence in which they will be covered in the course. See the ‘Course Schedule’ for a more detailed list of the topics covered.