BSc Medical Physiology with a Modern Language / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Motor Systems

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL21332
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
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, physiology and cellular basis 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.


The syllabus will cover a broad range of topics focused on the physiology, cellular biology and anatomy of the mammalian motor systems. The lectures will describe the fundamental biology of motor systems and how this can be applied to enhance our understanding of human motor-related diseases and technologies (such as brain-machine interfaces). In brief, this course will cover:
•    Muscle contractions
•    Motor Units
•    Spinal interneurons and spinal reflexes
•    Motor neuron diseases
•    Proprioception and motor control
•    Rhythmic movements
•    Voluntary control and descending pathways
•    Primary motor cortex
•    Neural coding and brain machine interfaces
•    Superior colliculus
•    Vestibular and oculomotor systems
•    Cerebellum and diseases
•    Basal ganglia and diseases
•    Rehabilitation after motor dysfunction


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
Written questions in the exam. Students encouraged to answer questions posted on the Blackboard discussion boards and to comment on peer's answers.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 30%
Written exam 70%

MCQ / fill in the blanks in-course exam (in PC cluster) – 30%
1.5 hour written essay exam – 70%

Feedback methods

•    We will run an essay writing tutorial at the end of the course and provide an opportunity 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

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