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BSc Neuroscience / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Neuropharmacology of Human Health (E)

Unit code BIOL31671
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


Neuropharmacology of Human Health presents key topics at the forefront of modern neuropharmacology. Emphasis will be placed on how the molecular and cellular basis of function of major excitatory, inhibitory and modulatory neurotransmitter receptor systems operate under physiological and pathophysiological conditions. You will gain active knowledge into the role of neurotransmitter systems in the generation and therapy of diverse, but significant, neuropathological disorders.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Drugs & the Brain BIOL21312 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
BIOL31671 Pre & Co-requisites

BIOL31671 Pre & Co-requisites is BIOL21312


The aim of this unit is to present key topics at the forefront of modern neuropharmacology. The emphasis of this unit is on the molecular and cellular basis of function of the major excitatory, inhibitory and modulatory neurotransmitter receptor systems, how these systems function under physiological and pathophysiological conditions, and how their actions can be targeted therapeutically to treat clinically-prevalent diseases.

PLEASE NOTE: This unit has restricted numbers and it may not be possible for students to be enrolled on this unit during the two-week course unit change period at the start of semester 1.


Learning outcomes


•       Understand the importance of neurotransmission for health and disease.

•       Describe the known signalling defects underlying specific neurological diseases and the consequences of these to neural circuit function and whole organism behaviour.

•       Describe the application of appropriate research methods used to investigate these processes and to identify aberrant signalling mechanisms.

•       Understand and interpret primary research findings and describe how these have been used to develop clinical treatments.

•       Understand how to find, identify and interpret key data, concepts and ideas and to pass these on to others.



For all areas, there will be lectures detailing basic principles. The topicality and importance of these areas will then be underscored by additional lectures designed to foster critical thinking.

Dopamine: schizophrenia/reward - The biosynthesis and role of dopamine as a neuromodulator acting through D1/D2 type receptors. The dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia will be presented and contrasted with alternate possible causes of this complex disorder. The major classes of dopaminergic drugs (standard and atypical antipsychotics) will be described along with their side-effects (especially on the motor system). The role of dopamine in reward (including drugs of abuse) will also be covered.

Glutamate: schizophrenia/stroke - Lectures will cover the glutamate synapse and ionotropic and metabotropic receptors that mediate/regulate glutamatergic neurotransmission. There will be coverage of the diverse biophysical properties of the ionotropic receptors, plus the diverse pharmacology of both ionotropic and metabotropic receptors. Emphasis will be placed on the role that this transmitter plays in mediating the pathophysiology of excitoxicity, and how glutamate receptors are being targeted of as potential therapy in a variety of CNS disorders including stroke, epilepsy and schizophrenia.

Acetylcholine: Alzheimer’s - The biosynthesis and receptor types for ACh (nicotinic / muscarinic) will be presented. The possible causes of Alzheimer’s (tau vs. amyloid), diagnostic techniques, drugs and their actions/ side effects will be covered. Particular emphasis will be placed on anti-cholinesterases. Future perspectives including use and applicability of animal models will be discussed.

GABA: epilepsy - The synthesis and activity of GABA including receptor subtypes and early excitatory role / later inhibitory role in signalling will be presented. Deficiency in GABAergic signalling will be used to introduce epilepsy, diagnostic techniques, treatments and side effects thereof.

Brain regulation of metabolism - The neural signalling underlying control of metabolism (focus on anorexia / obesity) will be presented. A description of neurotransmitters (inc. neuropeptides), brain regions and receptors will be discussed. Description of diagnostic techniques, research approaches (e.g. progress with KO mice) in addition to drugs in use / development and potential for such compounds will be covered. This information will be considered in light of known links with neural control of the GI tract /insulin signalling.

Rhythms in mental health and disease - An overview of the circadian cycle with emphasis on daily changes in body physiology and behaviour will be discussed. How cycles impact key mental disorders (eg. psychiatric disorders: depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, schizophrenia) and how Chronopharmacokinetics and Chronopharmacodynamics are emerging fields for effective treatments of such diseases will be fully explored.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Multiple sources of information often provide conflicting views. The student needs to balance what they read to reach an appropriate conclusion.
Oral communication
Students are encouraged to ask questions during and after lectures
Expectation that the student will undertake additional reading to understand and extend knowledge provided in lectures
Written communication
Formative and summative exam answers (SAQ and essay)

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written exam 90%

2 hour examination (90%) consisting of: Section A (1 hour) - answer 1 essay question from a choice of 3. Section B (1 hour) - answer 1 essay question from a choice of 3.

Other - Blackboard self-directed activity (10%). Each lecture block will have an associated element of self-directed activity to allow for formative assessment of learning and feedback on understanding. These activities will reinforce lecture material and will also provide model answers for the exam essay-style questions.

Feedback methods

Blackboard activities will be provided. These may include a summary of lecture material and/or key reference material. Each lecture block will have an associated element of self-directed activity to allow for formative assessment of learning and feedback on understanding (this activity will collectively be worth 10% of the final mark).

Recommended reading


Beaulieu and Gainetdinov (2011). The Physiology, Signalling and Pharmacology

of Dopamine Receptors. Pharmacological Reviews, vol 63, pp182-217.


Molecular Neuropharmacology (A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience) 2nd ed. (Nestler, Hyman & Malenka), chapters 5, 14, 16, 17, 19,


Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology (2014) Issues in Clinical Epileptology: A View from the Bench.  Volume 813. Edited by Helen E.­Scharfman and Paul S. Buckmaster.


Guyenet, S.J. And Schwartz, M.W. (2012) Regulation of food intake, energy balance, and body fat mass: implications for the pathogenesis and treatment of obesity. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 97:745–755.


F. Levi, U. Schibler. (2007) Circadian rhythms: mechanisms and therapeutic implications. Annu. Rev. Pharmacol. Toxicol. 47:593-628.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Richard Baines Unit coordinator

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