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Neural Circuits

Module titleNeural Circuits
Module codeNEU2018
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Jonathan Witton (Convenor)

Dr Talitha Kerrigan (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks




Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Neural networks are formed from massively interconnected ensembles of neurons; these connections are extensive yet remarkably selective. Deciphering the mechanistic basis of these networks holds a key to understanding the operation of nervous systems, and a means to link the neurophysiology of individual neurons to an animal’s behaviour.

This module examines in detail our current understanding of neural circuits, placing in a clear contemporary context many of the cell-types and basic principles that you have already encountered. Specifically, you will consider how circuits become connected, can be studied, and may malfunction in disease.

NEU1006 (formerly CSC1006) Introduction to Neuroscience is a pre-requisite for this module. This module is mandatory for students studying BSc Neuroscience, and optional for BSc Medical Sciences pathways. Students in other disciplines may take the module if they meet the pre-requisites.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Learning will be framed around four main themes:
1. Anatomy and physiology of neural circuits

a. Inhibitory and excitatory cells: the under-appreciated diversity.
b. Neuromodulators: a functional perspective.
c. Cellular basis of neural rhythms: the balance between excitation and inhibition, and their role in distinctive patterns of oscillation.

2. Functional roles of neural circuits
a. Sensory and movement circuits.
b. Neural circuits underlying learning and memory.

3. Development of neural circuits

a. The embryonic origin of inhibitory and excitatory neurons.
b. Circuit assembly: synaptogenesis and neuron maturation.

4. Neurological disorders: a role for circuit defects?

a. Developmental perturbations in circuit formation: autism.
b. Dynamic failures of circuit function: neurodegeneration.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Identify key differences between specific subtypes of inhibitory and excitatory neurons.
  • 2. Evaluate contributions of non-neuronal cells to neural circuit structure and function.
  • 3. Illustrate how neuromodulatory projections can regulate the function of neural circuits.
  • 4. Explain the cellular basis of neural synchrony in local circuits.
  • 5. Demonstrate some of the ways in which biological rhythms arise from neural circuits.
  • 6. Evaluate the properties of neural circuits underlying perception and behaviour.
  • 7. Describe some of the processes underlying neural circuit maturation.
  • 8. Evaluate evidence that different neurological diseases are manifest through specific deficits in circuit function.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 9. Describe some of the different methods and tools used to study neural circuit function.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 10. Carry out targeted literature searches using bibliographic databases.
  • 11. Analyse and critically interpret information from targeted literature.
  • 12. Clearly communicate scientific concepts through written, oral and other media.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module’s precise content will vary from year to year, but the following information gives a detailed description of the typical overall structure.

The module will begin with an introductory lecture to outline the broad aims and structure of the module, and will close with a wrap/feedback session. Content will be taught across several formats tailored to the module learning outcomes.


A series of sixteen one-hour lectures (delivered via online pre-recorded videos) will each introduce key concepts in the development, anatomy and neurophysiology of neural circuits, encompassing both health and disease. Lectures will be split into four blocks, each covering different themes of neural circuitry. Two Q&A sessions will provide opportunity for students to ask questions of their lecturers in person. Lecture content will be examined by an end of module exam consisting of short answer and data interpretation questions.

Data interpretation workshops

Each teaching block will be followed by a 2-hour data interpretation workshop. These sessions will focus on learning to interpret data from scientific literature and apply knowledge learned in the lectures to answer formative questions. Students are expected to review the questions in advance of the workshop and will work together in small groups in class to pool their knowledge.

Journal clubs

Skills in analysis and synthesis of primary literature will be developed through two 2-hour journal clubs. These sessions will involve discussion of a research paper facilitated by an academic specialist, who will provide an introduction to the paper and research topic. Featured literature will link to topics relevant to a summative literature review assignment.

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 & Teaching22 x 1-hour module introduction and feedback sessions.
Scheduled Learning & Teaching84 x 2-hour data interpretation workshops.
Scheduled Learning & Teaching42 x 2-hour journal clubs.
Scheduled Learning & Teaching22 x 1-hour question and answer sessions .
Guided Independent Study1616 x 1-hour lectures (online pre-recorded videos)
Guided Independent Study4Literature searches, reading and preparation for data interpretation workshops.
Guided Independent Study36Literature review assignment. Includes literature searching and reading, planning and writing.
Guided Independent Study78Reading and preparation for lectures and exam.


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Practice SAQ and data interpretation questions (in-class and in data interpretation workshops)8 hours1-12Oral (in-class) and written model answers
Literature review plan500 words1-12Written

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
Literature review 301,500 words 1-12 Written
Exam: short answer and data interpretation questions 702 hours1-9,11-12 Written (on request)


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Literature review (30%)Literature review (1,500 words)1-12Ref/Def period
Exam: short answer and data interpretation questions (70%)Exam: short answer and data interpretation questions (2 hours)1-9,11-12 Ref/Def period

Re-assessment notes

Please refer to the TQA section on Referral/Deferral:  


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Course textbook:

  • Principles of Neural Science, 5th Edition. Kandel, Schwartz, Jessel, Siegelbaum & Hudspeth.

Basic reading:

  • Lerner, Li & Deisseroth (2016). Communication in Neural Circuits: Tools, Opportunities, and Challenges. Cell. 164(6): 1136-1150. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.02.027.
  • Pelkey, Chittajallu, Craig, Tricoire, Wester & McBain (2017). Hippocampal GABAergic Inhibitory Interneurons. Physiological Reviews. 97(4): 1619-1747. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.02.027.

Specific reading:

  • For each lecture, a list of references will be provided. These should be available as online PDFs via the University of Exeter library (electronic journals).

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Neuroscience, Neuroanatomy, Neurobiology, Electrophysiology

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

NEU1006 or CSC1006

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date