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MUSC Laboratory

PhD and MS in Neurosciences


Cognitive Neuroscience (Aston-Jones, Kalivas): Higher order brain functions such as learning, memory, attention, decision-making and consciousness, depend upon complex interactions among widespread networks of neurons, and are perhaps best represented in the neocortex. This course will build upon basic neurophysiology and anatomy of cortical neurons and circuits to study the neural substrates of these cognitive processes. We will read selected chapters from the new textbook “Principles of Cognitive Neuroscience” by Purves et al., as well as from Buzsaki’s book “Rhythms of the Brain”. Presentations by both students and faculty will develop an understanding of basic principles involved in the neural bases of cognitive functions.

Structural mechanisms of synaptic plasticity (Chandler, McGinty): The brain is far from a static structure. Instead, connections between neurons undergo changes in synaptic strength that are though to underlie learning and memory. This class will discuss the latest research in the field of synaptic plasticity, including the complex intracellular machinery responsible for trafficking receptors into and out of the synapse in an activity dependent manner.

Monoamines in the Cerebral Cortex (Carr, Lavin): The cerebral cortex receives a dense innervation from dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin containing axons arising from nuclei in the brainstem. These ascending monoamine systems play pivotal roles in the overall circuitry of the cortex. Dysfunction in these afferents has been implicated in a wide variety of neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. Focusing on seminal research articles from the 1960s to the present, this class will discuss the anatomy, electrophysiology, and functional roles of monoamines in the cortex.

Ion channel structure and function (Woodward): Our goal is to provide a guided, detailed review of the fundamental biophysical properties of ion channels in membranes including the elementary properties of pores, molecular mechanisms of ion selectivity and permeation, the basis for channel gating, and structure-function relationships.  The course will focus on the properties of ion channels themselves rather than the specific properties of any particular cell-type. The course format will be a series of guided discussions rather than formal lectures.  Students will be expected to read Hille’s outstanding monograph, Ion Channels of Excitable Membranes, and will discuss and present in class the major concepts it contains.  Both the monograph and the course adopt a biophysical approach to understanding ion channels.  This approach is inherently quantitative, and many fundamental ideas are most simply and concisely expressed as mathematical relationships.  However, complex derivations will not be undertaken, and basic differentials and integrals will be employed only on occasion.  Students will be expected to have a working knowledge of the basic concepts of electrophysiology and have practical experience in recording ion channel activity.

Neurotransmitter Transporters in the CNS (Jayanthi, Ramamoorthy): The neurotransmitter transporters are like “mini vacs” at the synapse, and are responsible for controlling the magnitude and duration of chemical signaling by clearing the released neurotransmitter back into neuronal terminals or glial cells. Biogenic amine transporters are molecular targets for addictive drugs including cocaine, amphetamines and MDMA (ecstasy) as well as important therapeutic antidepressants such as SSRIs. A survey of fundamental knowledge and an introduction to conceptual thinking about structure, function and regulation of the transporter system are presented through a series of lectures. Lectures will also cover the contribution of transporters in several brain disorders. The goal of the course is to prepare beginning researchers in a defined area of transporters in neuroscience.

Psychopharmacology (See, Buhusi, Becker, Olive):  This elective will cover areas of interest in psychopharmacology, with a particular focus on animal models of psychiatric and neurological disorders and cutting edge developments in pharmacotherapy.  Topics will include:

  • General pharmacological principles as they relate to neural/behavioral function
  • Assessment of psychoactive drug effects in animals and humans
  • Drug addiction
  • Psychosis and antipsychotic drugs
  • Mood disorders and antidepressants/mood stabilizers
  • Psychopharmacology of dementia
  • Anxiety disorders and anxiolytics
  • Attention/developmental disorders and pharmacotherapies

Neurodevelopment  (M. Buhusi, Granholm, Rohrer): This elective course will examine the extent to which wiring and firing in the brain depend on genetic programs vs. experience. Following a few overview didactic lectures, the course will then focus on the most widely studied sensory system via journal club style discussions of highly influential original research articles.

Aging and neurodegeneration (Granholm, Sambamurti): The nervous system is in a constant state of neurodegeneration.  During development, programmed cell death and dendritic pruning plays an adaptive role in brain function, while many neurological diseases involve degeneration of neural function. We will explore the cell signaling and neural systems mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration.


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