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Unit information: Synaptic plasticity in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Synaptic plasticity
Unit code PHPH30010
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Jack Mellor
Open unit status Not open

PHPH20009: Neurophysiology, PHPH20010: Developmental Physiology of The Specialized cell



School/department School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences

Description including Unit Aims

This Unit will explore some of the advances in the understanding of synaptic transmission and plasticity in the central nervous system. Synaptic plasticity is one of the means by which neurotransmission can be up- or down-regulated and is considered to be fundamentally important for normal functioning of the mammalian brain. The Unit aims to introduce basic concepts surrounding the electrophysiological analyses of synaptic transmission and plasticity. We will then discuss the mechanisms of short- and long-term synaptic plasticity including the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD).

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this Element the student will be able to:

  • appreciate the diverse nature of synaptic plasticity;
  • understand various forms of long- and short-term plasticity at excitatory and inhibitory synapses;
  • understand the properties of long-term potentiation (LTP) that make this an attractive model of Hebbian plasticity;
  • understand some of the fundamental mechanisms underlying the induction and expression of synaptic plasticity in different brain regions
  • evaluate experimental evidence and make appropriate conclusions.

Teaching Information


Assessment Information

The unit will be assessed through one 3-hour summative examination in May/June, which consists of two sections. In section A (50%), students will be expected to answer one essay question from a choice of 3, which will assess their knowledge and critical understanding of the field, and their ability to gather information from the primary scientific literature. In section B (50%), students will be expected to answer one multi-part compulsory question requiring data handling/data interpretation and experimental design.

Reading and References

Reviews and key references from the current scientific literature

  • Malenka, R.C., and Bear, M.F. (2004). LTP and LTD: An embarrassment of riches. Neuron 44, 5-21.
  • A synaptic model of memory: long-term potentiation in the hippocampus. Bliss & Collingridge (1993), Nature, 361: 31-39
  • Synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus. Bliss, Collingridge & Morris (2007), in The Hippocampus Book (Oxford University Press).