BSc Pharmacology with a Modern Language / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Excitable Cells: the Foundations of Neuroscience

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL10832
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Excitable cells - cells which respond to stimuli by producing an electric current - are key to the function of our muscles and nervous system. You will learn about the structure and function of these cells, what makes them important and the techniques used to study them.


To consider the major concepts underlying the basis of cell excitability, the structure and function of excitable cells and their contribution to muscle and nervous system function.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this unit, students will have developed an understanding of what excitable cells are and what makes them important. Key features of how excitable cells maintain and alter their ionic composition in relation to electrochemical gradients will become familiar. Students will understand the techniques used to study excitable cells; in addition, students will become familiar with a variety of cells within the nervous system and how they function, such as sensory and motor neurons and how these relate to muscles. Students will then be able to begin to apply this knowledge in learning about how networks of excitable cells can function together as higher level systems, such as those involved in learning and memory.


Overview. Gross organization of the nervous system. History of neuroscience. Cellular organization of the nervous system. The cytosol, extracellular fluids, membranes. The proteins - ion channels, pumps and transporters. Diffusion, permeability, electricity. Origin of resting membrane potentials. The action potential. Transmission and saltatory conduction. Electrical synapses. Chemical transmission. Electrophysiological techniques such as patch clamping. New research techniques such as fluorescent probes and optogenetics. An introduction to sensory biology, including how the eye functions. A model synapse - the neuromuscular junction. Gross organization of musculature. Cellular structure of muscle. Excitation-contraction coupling in muscle cells.  Disorders of the nervous system: neurodevelopmental disorders; Neurodiversity. Simple nervous systems: invertebrate learning. Vertebrate nervous systems: learning language and the brain.

Teaching and learning methods

The unit is delivered by a series of e-learning modules (ELMs) containing approximately 2 hours of pre-recorded video content per week. The ELMs also contain a large number of formative quizzes and other activities that enable students to gauge their progress. Students are encouraged to post questions on the unit Padlet discussion board, which are then discussed in weekly question and answer sessions.

Employability skills

Problem solving
Numerical problems are a key component of the coursework

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written exam 90%

90% awarded for the unit examination which will consist of 50 multiple choice questions, in the semester 2 examination period. 10% awarded for online summative multiple choice question-based assessments.

Feedback methods

Feedback on coursework MCQs will be provided via the Blackboard MCQ system. After the exam results have been released we will also make the unit exam paper available as a Blackboard quiz (with feedback). Formative feedback will be available via revision reversions of summative assessments and an online version of last year’s exam paper.

Recommended reading

Bear, Connors and Paradiso. 2020. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. Enhanced 4th Edition.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 26
Independent study hours
Independent study 74

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Richard Prince Unit coordinator

Return to course details