Neurobiology 204: Neurophysiology of Central Circuits                 


Spring Term 2009


Co-Directors: Rick Born and Rachel Wilson

(rborn[at], 432-1307; rachel_wilson[at], 432-5571)


Faculty: Rick Born, Rachel Wilson, Clay Reid, Gabriel Kreiman, Marge Livingstone, John Maunsell

TA: Andreas Liu (andreasliu[at]


Time: Mondays and Wednesdays,10:00am - 12:00pm

Location: Goldenson Building, Rm. 229


This course serves as an introduction to major themes in systems neuroscience. Our goal is to equip students with the knowledge they need to understand the fundamental concepts underlying current research in the neurophysiology of central circuits. Each week is dedicated to a different theme, and will draw on research from a variety of different sensorimotor modalities and model organisms.




Neuro 200/HST-130 (“Introduction to Neuroscience”) is recommended but not strictly required. If you have not taken this course, please let the instructors know. We can recommend general review articles or other materials that will help give you the background that most of the other students will have.




Wednesday classes will consist of a two-hour lecture. Mondays we will discuss one or more papers (posted on the course website). Students will be graded on their class participation. Each student should be prepared to discuss the following for each of the assigned papers: 1) background and motivation, 2) methods, 3) each figure, 4) main conclusions.







Jan. 28

Lecture: Receptive fields & neural codes (Born/Wilson)


Meister & Baylor 1995


Feb. 2

Discussion: Receptive fields & neural codes (Born/Wilson)

Feb. 4

Lecture: “Why have multiple cortical areas?” (Born)

Handout, Lecture

Barlow review, Chenn & Walsh 2002, Fukuchi-Shimogori & Grove 2001


Feb. 9

Discussion: “Why have multiple cortical areas?” (Born)

Feb. 11

Lecture: Cortical circuits (Reid)

Handout, Ohki & Reid 2007, Lefort et al. 2009


Feb. 16

President’s Day

(no class, no homework)

Feb. 18

Lecture: Adaptation & efficient coding (Wilson)

Handout, Nagel & Doupe 2006


Feb. 23

Discussion: Adaptation & efficient coding (Wilson)

Feb. 25

Lecture: Sensory integration & decision-making (Born/Wilson)

Handout, Lectures,

Morgan et al. 2008,


Mar. 2

Discussion: Sensory integration & decision-making (Born/Wilson)

Mar. 4

Lecture: Attention & gain control (Maunsell) Lecture

Handout, Mitchell et al. 2007


Mar. 9

Discussion: Attention & gain control (Maunsell)

Mar. 11

Lecture: Computational approaches (Kreiman) Handout, Sejnowski et al. 1988, Riesenhuber & Poggio 1999


Mar. 16

Discussion: Computational approaches (Kreiman)

Mar. 18

Lecture: Neurons & perception (Maunsell) Lecture

Handout, Maier et al. 2008


Mar. 23

SPRING BREAK (no class)

Mar. 25

SPRING BREAK (no class)


Mar. 30

Discussion: Neurons & perception (Maunsell)

Apr. 1

Lecture: Active sensing (Wilson)

Lecture, Background

Handout, Urbain & Deschênes 2007


Apr. 6

Discussion: Active sensing (Wilson)

Apr. 8

Lecture: Robustness (Born/Wilson)

Handout, Prinz et al. 2004


Apr. 13

Discussion: Robustness (Born/Wilson)

Apr. 15

Lecture: Plasticity & learning (Born)

Handout, Raymond et al. 1996

De Zeeuw et al. 1998


Apr. 20

Discussion: Plasticity & learning (Born)

Apr. 22

Lecture: New tools in systems neuroscience (Reid)

handout & papers


Apr. 24

Final Exam available here.




Apr. 27

No Class

Apr. 29

No Class


The course schedule is also available as a Google Calendar.  Search “NB204” under public calendars at




Final grades will be computed as follows:

homework - 50%

final exam - 30%

class participation - 20%

Grades will be lowered for repeated absenteeism or arriving late to class.  



Please e-mail homework to andreasliu[at] by 10:00am Monday, before class begins. Homework not received by this time will be given zero credit. Name your file 204_X_surname.doc, where X is the number of the assignment (e.g. Jane Smith’s third assignment would be called 204_3_smith.doc). Please put “204” in the subject line. Homework assignments will be based on the papers we discuss on class on Mondays. The faculty member teaching that week may have special instructions for your written assignment, so check the mini-syllabus before starting to read and write.  In general, you will be instructed to write either a referee’s report or a commentary.  Make sure you know which type of assignment you should write each week. Occasionally a different type of written assignment might be specified; in this case, the instructor will tell you what they want to see.  A detailed description of the writing curriculum can be found here.


Final exam


Your final exam will be to write one referee’s report and one commentary, each on a different paper assigned by the faculty at the end of the course. Use the feedback you receive on your homework to polish your writing skills within these two specific formats.

The final will be made available on the course web site on Friday, May 24 and will be due on Monday, May 4.



In previous years, class members have requested additional background on some of the statistical and analytical methods we encounter in the course.  To meet this need, we have added two new features.


1. Special Sessions. We are lucky to have Andy Liu as our teaching assistant this spring.  Andy is a mathematician who has spent time thinking seriously about neurobiology while a member of Wade Regehr's lab.  Andy will be offering four additional evening sessions on selected topics for students who need or want more mathematical background.  The topics are:


1) Information Theory

2) Techniques for Estimating Receptive Fields

3) Signal Detection Theory

The meeting times for these sessions will be established at the first class meeting.


2. On-line Primers.  Background reading on the above topics can be found here.



Syllabi from previous years are available from 2006, 2007, and 2008.