Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health Professions


Neural Circuits

Module titleNeural Circuits
Module codeCSC2018
Academic year2020/1
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 therefore 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. 

The Introduction to Neuroscience module is a pre-requisite for this module. This module is mandatory for students studying BSc Neuroscience, and optional for other 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.
  • 10. Analyse primary datasets.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 11. Analyse and critically interpret information from targeted literature.
  • 12. Clearly communicate scientific concepts through written, oral and other media.
  • 13. Apply appropriate analyses to different types of numerical data.

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 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. Lecture content will be examined by an end of module exam consisting of short answer and data interpretation questions.


Laboratory demonstrations

There will be two laboratory sessions, each lasting three hours. These will focus on the analysis and interpretation of neural circuit structure and function, with supporting material to help you to understand how these experiments are undertaken. They will incorporate real scientific data from ongoing or recently published projects:

  1. Computational modelling: hypothesis testing using computational models of simple neural networks.
  2. Imaging: analysis of immunofluorescence images of brain sections. 


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.

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 & Teaching1616 x 1-hour lectures.
Scheduled Learning & Teaching84 x 2-hour data interpretation workshops.
Scheduled Learning & Teaching62 x 3-hour laboratory demonstrations.
Guided Independent Study8Literature searches, reading and preparation for data interpretation workshops.
Guided Independent Study30Reading in preparation for laboratory demonstrations and completion of lab reports.
Guided Independent Study80Reading 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 hours1-13Verbal (in-class) and model answers
Laboratory practical 1 report750 words1-13Written

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
Laboratory practical 2 report 30750 words1-13Written
Exam: short answers and data interpretation 702 hours1-12Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Submission of laboratory practical 2 reportSubmission of laboratory practical 2 report1-13Ref/Def period
Exam: short answers and data interpretationExam: short answers and data interpretation1-12Ref/Def period

Re-assessment notes

DEFERRAL: Students who are granted a deferral by the Board of Examiners, as recommended by the UEMS Mitigation Committee, will be permitted to sit any missed piece of assessment or its equivalent (see ref/def table, above) in the referral/deferral period as an uncapped first attempt. 

REFERRAL: Students who fail the module overall, either by failing a piece of assessment that is a pass requirement or by achieving an overall module mark of less than 40%, will be permitted a second attempt at the assessment or its equivalent (see ref/def table, above) in the referral/deferral period as a capped (40%) second and final attempt.


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


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date