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Unit information: Synaptic plasticity in 2021/22

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




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). These underlying mechanisms will then be placed in the context of neuronal circuit development and the encoding and consolidation of memories.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this Unit students will be able to:

• appreciate the diverse nature of synaptic plasticity;

• understand various forms of short term plasticity at excitatory and inhibitory synapses;

• understand the properties of long-term potentiation that make this an attractive model of Hebbian plasticity;

• understand some of the fundamental mechanisms underlying the induction of LTP;

• appreciate the different mechanisms that may be responsible for the expression of LTP;

• appreciate that differing forms of LTD exist in the hippocampus and other brain regions and understand the underlying mechanisms of induction and expression;

• understand the importance of synaptic plasticity in forming synaptic connections during brain development;

• appreciate the links between synaptic plasticity and learning in the mature brain;

• evaluate experimental evidence and make appropriate conclusions.

Teaching Information


Assessment Information

Timed assessment 90%

The unit will be assessed through a timed assessment in May/June, which contributes 90% of the unit mark and 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 assessing data handling/data interpretation and experimental design skills.

Coursework 10%

The coursework will be either an essay, data interpretation or experimental design question of a similar format to that used in the timed assessment.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. PHPH30010).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.