BSc Biomedical Sciences / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Cell Signalling (E)

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL31441
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


The cells of our body integrate signals from multiple stimuli in order to mount appropriate physiological responses. These signals are transmitted to specific targets within the cell by intracellular signalling pathways that employ post-translational modifications, particularly phosphorylation. The fidelity of signal transmission by these pathways and the cross-talk between them are tightly controlled. This unit will cover how key signalling pathways in cells transduce extracellular signals to regulate gene expression and cellular processes such as growth and apoptosis. It will also provide an understanding of how disruption of these pathways can lead to diseases such as cancer and stroke.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
The Dynamic Cell BIOL21121 Pre-Requisite Recommended
Molecules and Cells in Human Disease BIOL21351 Pre-Requisite Recommended
Genome Maintenance & Regulation BIOL21101 Pre-Requisite Recommended
Introduction to Cancer BIOL21742 Pre-Requisite Recommended


•       provide an understanding of the mechanisms by which cells communicate

•       illustrate the commonality and differences in these mechanism using examples of key signalling molecules and pathways

•       provide a basis for understanding disease processes in which signalling is compromised

•       give insight into the experimental methods used for studying cell signalling

Learning outcomes

Students will be able to:


•       describe the various types of signalling molecules including receptors, adapter proteins, second messengers, kinases and phosphatases

•       understand how the physical properties of signalling molecules influence their behaviour

•       describe the major intracellular signalling pathways in cells and have an understanding of their complexity and the interactions between them

•       have an understanding of the link between extracellular signals and intracellular events, including the regulation of gene expression and apoptosis

•       discuss the relevance of cell signalling in a variety of physiological and pathological situations

•       appreciate the experimental techniques associated with the study of cell signalling

  • research the scientific literature to enhance their knowledge and develop their critical thinking skills.


  • Introduction to cell signalling: signalling networks, protein-protein interactions, protein phosphorylation/de-phosphorylation.
  • Receptors: types of receptor (RTK, GPCR, TGFb , cytokine and Wnt receptors), their mechanism of action and their regulation.
  • Second messengers: calcium, cAMP and phospholipid signalling.
  • Intracellular signalling pathways: covering the major pathways in cells (MAPK, PI3K-AKT, mTOR, JAK-STAT, SMAD, IKK-NF-kB, Wnt), their components and key roles of protein kinases and phosphatases.
  • Transcriptional regulation by signalling pathways: roles of transcription factors and chromatin modifications.
  • Techniques used to research cell signalling.

Employability skills

Written communication
Students write a practice essay that provides training in logically organising ideas under time pressure.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 5%
Written exam 95%

Written exam: 2 hour written examination answering two essay questions. 95%
Written assignment: A practice essay. Students write the essay under exam conditions. 5%

Feedback methods

Students complete a practice essay. Annotated scripts with feedback are returned to the students.

Recommended reading

•       Lim, W et al (2014) Cell Signaling. Garland Science.

•       Hancock, J.T. (2005) Cell Signalling (2nd edition). Oxford University Press


Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Alan Whitmarsh Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Teaching Staff

Dr Chiara Francavilla, Dr Lindsay MacDougall, Dr Gino Poulin, Dr Cathy Tournier, Dr Alan Whitmarsh

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