BSc Neuroscience with Industrial/Professional Experience

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Motor Systems

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL21332
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Biological Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


Motor Systems provides an understanding of how the central nervous system plans and controls movement. You will study topics including muscle contraction, spinal reflexes, the control of movement by different areas of the brain and neurological diseases which affect movement.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Excitable Cells: the Foundations of Neuroscience BIOL10832 Pre-Requisite Recommended
Sensory Systems BIOL21341 Co-Requisite Recommended


This course aims to explain our current understanding of how the mammalian nervous system plans and executes movements, with particular reference to the human case. Topics will include the anatomy and physiology of the motor systems, spanning from muscles contraction to spinal reflexes, cortical and sub-cortical control of movement and how certain neurological diseases affect movement. In this way, the students will be exposed to the many levels of motor control, and will acquire a critical knowledge of what we know (or don’t yet know) about the structure and function of human motor control systems.

Learning outcomes

  • By the end of this course students should be able to critically assess the current knowledge of motor control and to communicate these topics in a concise manner that recognises the limitations of current hypotheses.

Students should also have acquired the following skills:

  • an understanding of the motor systems at a variety of levels (from cellular to systems neuroscience).
  • an accurate understanding of the different strategies used by the nervous system to control movement.
  • an understanding of the different roles played by muscles, the spinal cord, midbrain, cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia in the organisation of movement.
  • A critical knowledge of the different experimental methods used to investigate motor control.


Muscles and motoneurons - These lectures will describe how muscles contract, how motoneurons determine muscle contraction and how the spinal reflexes are orchestrated by spinal circuits comprising interneurons and motoneurons. The generation of locomotor activity by spinal neuronal networks called central pattern generators will also be covered.

Motor cortex and descending systems - This part will deal with the anatomy and function of motor and premotor areas of the cerebral cortex. Experiments illustrating the activity of motor cortical neurons during different behavioural tasks will be described. The concept of population coding will be introduced. The medial and descending system originating in the cortex and in the brainstem will be described.

Oculomotor control - These lecture will describe the neural control of the extraocular muscles that control eye movement, with particular emphasis on the generation of saccadic movements by brainstem pontine centres and how they are controlled by the cerebral cortex.

Cerebellum and basal ganglia - This part will focus on these neuronal systems that are essential for motor control. Their complex architecture and their connectivity with the cerebral cortex and the descending brainstem systems will be covered. The neurological problems arising from damage to each of this system will also be described in detail.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
By the end of this unit students should be able to critically assess the current knowledge of motor control and the experimental methods used to investigate motor control.
Written communication
Short answer questions in the exam. Students encouraged to answer questions posted on the Blackboard discussion boards and to comment on peer's answers. This is followed by posting of model answers online.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written exam 90%

Blackboard online MCQ mini exams (10%) and 1.5 hours written examination (90%)

Feedback methods

  • Feedback will be provided as part of four online multiple-choice assessments on lecture content.
  • A 'Question and Answer' session will be held to discuss any student-raised concerns and/or past examination questions.
  • A formal feedback session will be held in the subsequent semester in which students will have access to their marked examination scrips and to generic comments from the markers.

Recommended reading

Kandel ER, Schwartz JH & Jessel TM (2000) Principles of Neural Science (4th edition). McGraw-Hill

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 76.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Paul Kasher Unit coordinator

Return to course details