Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health Professions


Module titleNeuropharmacology
Module codeCSC4009
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Kate Ellacott (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The nervous system is central to the regulation of all aspects of physiology and behaviour. In this module you will learn how altering nervous system signalling using drugs leads to changes in physiology and behaviour with beneficial or detrimental consequences for human health. You will investigate why some substances historically used as therapeutics have also been co-opted for “recreational” use and will develop an understanding of the associated complexities. Particular consideration will be paid to possible side effects and the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of drug dependence and tolerance.

CSC 2006 Foundations in Neuroscience or CSC 2005 Introduction to Pharmacology are pre-requisite for this module. This module is optional for students studying BSc Medical Sciences (Neurosciences), BSc Medical Sciences (Pharmacology & Therapeutics) and other BSc Medical Sciences pathways. Students in other disciplines may take the module if they meet the pre-requisites (CSC 2006 or CSC 2005) or at the discretion of the module convenor. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

Illustrated using examples of well-known neuroactive substances such as cannabis, nicotine and amphetamine, you will learn about the complexities of drug-action in the CNS. Through a combination of lectures and seminars focused on primary research literature you will begin to understand the molecular basis underlying the modulation of CNS signalling by drugs, including the development of dependence and tolerance. You will also learn about the challenges of designing new CNS-acting drugs and discover how advances in basic research are driving the development of novel therapeutics.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Distinguish between the principal types of ligand-effector interactions that affect neural activity, providing examples of each.
  • 2. Recognise the complexities of neural signalling in the CNS and give examples of how drugs may act on specific neural pathways to differentially regulate physiology and behaviour
  • 3. Explain the principal challenges associated with designing drugs that act in the CNS to modulate physiology and behaviour
  • 4. Explain the molecular mechanism underlying the development of drug dependence and tolerance, illustrated by specific examples.
  • 5. Critically evaluate the latest primary research in neuropharmacology, demonstrating an in-depth understanding of the underlying research methodology.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Show a clear understanding of the principles behind good experimental design and data communication
  • 7. Evaluate the specific challenges in data collection within the discipline of neuropharmacology research

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Critically evaluate and synthesise primary sources of information.
  • 9. Exemplify critical thinking in the construction and analysis of oral and written arguments
  • 10. Produce clear scientific writing.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, an example of an overall structure is as follows:

At the beginning of each week a “drug of the week”, exemplifying key neuropharmacological concepts, will be introduced to you in a one hour lecture. Background material will be presented and molecular targets and physiological effects discussed. Examples of drugs that may be covered include: 

  • Ketamine
  • Diazepam
  • Cocaine
  • Nitrous Oxide (Laughing gas)
  • MDMA (Ecstasy)
  • Cannabis
  • Nicotine
  • Alcohol

 Every week you will have a two-hour journal club in which the discussion of a related primary research paper is facilitated an academic who specialises in the topic. During the module you will write a “News and Views” style commentary article about a primary research paper selected from a list of available options. This article will form part of the module assessment. To help you prepare you will have a one-hour interactive small-group tutorial with the specialist academic who selected the paper that will be the focus of your “News and Views” style commentary.

 At the end of the module you will be assessed on the content of the lectures and journal club sessions in a final written exam made up of short answer and data interpretation questions.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning & Teaching14Lectures
Scheduled Learning & Teaching20Interactive journal club sessions
Scheduled Learning & Teaching1“News and Views” assessment preparation tutorial
Guided Independent Study30Literature searches, reading and preparation for journal club sessions.
Guided Independent Study10Preparation for assessed “News and views” style summary of a primary research paper
Guided Independent Study75Reading and preparation for lectures and exam


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Participation in tutorial to discuss development of “News and views” article assessment1 hour1-10Verbal
Online Practice SAQ and data interpretation questions5 questions1-6, 10Online model answers

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer question and data interpretation exam602 hours1-6, 10Written (on request)
“News and views” style summary of a primary research paper401000 words1-10Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Short answer question and data interpretation exam (60%)Short answer question and data interpretation exam (2 hours)1-6, 10Ref/def period
“News and views” style summary of a primary research paper (40%)“News and views” style summary of a primary research paper (1000 words)1-10Ref/def period

Re-assessment notes

Please access the Student Handbook for guidance.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

1.  ‘From Neuron to Brain’ 5 th Edition (2012), Nicholls et al, ISBN: 978-0878936090 – For reference/ revision of material from Foundations in Neuroscience. Consult as needed

2. ‘Pharmacology’ 8 th Edition (2015), Rang et al, ISBN: 978-0702053627, Section 4: The Nervous System, Chapters 36-38, 40, 46-48

3. ‘Psychopharmacology: Drugs, the brain and behaviour’, 2nd Edition (2013), Meyer & Quenzer, ISBN:978-0878935109, Chapters 1-10, 11-16

4. ‘Drugs, addiction and the brain’, 1st Edition (2014),  Koob, Arends & Le Moal, ISBN: 978-0123869371


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

ELE – College to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

Key words search

Brain, Pharmacology, Neuroscience, Addiction 

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

CSC2006 Foundations in Neuroscience or CSC2005 Introduction to Pharmacology

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date