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INSC 598 Advanced Systems Neuroscience

Time: Monday and Friday from 10:30 – 12:30


            This course takes an integrative approach to the study of nervous system function. We will explore neural strategies used by different modalities to encode sensory information. Information coding in these systems will be analyzed at different levels, ranging from synaptic input analysis at single sensory neurons and their effect on local network processing to larger scale population analyses. In a few of the systems, we will also explore how sensory information is transformed into motor commands that specify specific behaviors.

            The course will consist of an introductory section to provide a conceptual framework for studying neural circuits at the systems level. This will be followed by four additional sections that each explores specific neural systems within the context of this conceptual framework. In the first section, Josh Gold and Vijay Balasubramanian will review general methodological and analytical approaches that are used to probe behavior and neural function at the systems level. These methodological and conceptual approaches will be described within the context of retinal processing as well as studies addressing the neural mechanisms responsible for forming decisions about sensory stimuli. In the second section, Diego Contreras will discuss sensory processing at the synaptic and local network level in two well described sensory systems (visual and somatosensory “barrel” cortex). In the third section, Marcos Frank will review the behavioral and electrophysiological features of REM and nonREM sleep, as well as several theories of sleep function, including the possible role of sleep in neuronal metabolism, brain development and learning and memory. In the fourth section, Minghong Ma will focus on the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying olfactory information coding and processing. This section will address how these circuits are organized to enable us to detect and discriminate thousands of odors. In the fifth and final section, Marc Schmidt will use the well known neuroethological model of birdsong to explore the strengths of using natural behaviors to study fundamental properties of sensory processing, sensorimotor integration and motor control.


            Each faculty will have approximately a 2 - 3 week block in which to cover their system. In each block, faculty will lecture on Mondays and Fridays. At the end of each block, students will present assigned papers. Lectures will be didactic, but interaction and questions from students are expected and encouraged. Grades will be determined from class participation and student presentations. Readings will consist mostly of scientific papers which will be available on blackboard in advance of each block by the corresponding faculty.

Prerequisite: Core III (INSC 573- Systems Neuroscience) or Permission of Course Director

Course Directors: Marc Schmidt at or Diego Contreras at