Neurobiology 204 - 2007

Co-Directors: Rick Born and Rachel Wilson
(, 432-1307;, 432-5571)

Faculty: John Assad, Margaret Livingstone, John Maunsell, Clay Reid
TA: Nic Price (

Time: Mondays and Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Location: Warren Alpert Building, Rm. 336.

This course serves as an introduction to the physiology of circuits in the vertebrate central nervous system. Topics include the visual, auditory, olfactory, and somatosensory systems, the neural control of eye movements, reward, and perception. The behavior of these systems will be analyzed at three levels: the electrophysiological properties of single neurons, synaptic interactions between neurons in vitro, and the behavior of the circuits in vivo.

The syllabus is available as a Word document here


Wednesday classes will generally consist of a two-hour lecture. Mondays we will discuss one or more papers (posted at Discussions of papers in class should be very interactive. Each student should be prepared to discuss the following for each of the assigned papers: 1) The big picture (abstract and introduction), 2) methods, 3) each figure, 4) main conclusions.

Rick (WAB-218) and Rachel (WAB-320) will have open office hours from 1:30 to 3pm on Tuesdays (after the seminar) and Thursdays. Students can arrange other times by e-mail.

You are strongly encouraged to attend the Neurobiology Tuesday 12:15 seminars in Goldenson 122. If you want to view a webcast, they are available under at the bottom of this page.

Click on the appropriate week to view any specific instructions

Week Monday Wednesday
1 Jan. 31 Concept: Receptive fields & neural codes (Born/Wilson)
Handout, Paper 1, Paper 2
2 Feb. 5 Discussion (Born/Wilson) Feb. 7 Vision: Retina to V1 (Reid)
Pre-reading, Paper 1
3 Feb. 12 Discussion (Reid) Feb. 14 Concept: Cortical Maps (Born)
Handout, Barlow paper, Chenn paper, Fukuchi paper,
4 Feb. 19 Holiday: President's day Feb. 21 Somatosensory system (Wilson)
Handout, New & Views 1, New & Views 2, DiCarlo 2000 paper,
5 Feb. 26 Discussion (Wilson) Feb. 28 Auditory system (Assad)
Carr & Konishi 1990
6 Mar. 5 Discussion (Assad) Mar. 7 Olfactory system (Wilson)
Handout, Bozza et al., McGann et al.
7 Mar. 12 Discussion (Wilson) Mar. 14 Concept: Circuits & connectivity (Reid)
Ohki...Reid, 2005, Denk & Horstmann, 2004, Wickersham...Callaway, 2007
8 Mar. 19 Discussion (Reid) Mar. 21 Sensory integration (Born)
Handout, Livingstone & Hubel, Stanford et al.
9 Apr. 2 Discussion (Born)Apr. 4 Vision: Direction selectivity (Livingstone)
Handout, Barlow & Levick, Fried et al.
10 Apr. 9 Discussion (Livingstone)Apr. 11Concept: Neurons & perception (Maunsell)
Handout, Parker & Newsome, Nienborg et al.
11 Apr. 16 Discussion (Maunsell)Apr. 18 Basal ganglia & reward (Assad)
Background - Schultz review
Platt & Glimcher, Hollerman & Schultz
12 Apr. 23 Discussion (Assad) Apr. 25 Cerebellum & motor learning (Born)
Handout, Raymond et al., De Zeeuw et al.,
13 Apr. 30 Discussion (Born) May 2 Final Exam, Handout
N&V1, N&V2, N&V3, N&V4, N&V5
Ref1, Ref2, Ref3, Ref4, Ref5


The grade will be computed as follows:
homework - 40%
final exam - 40%
class participation - 20%
Grades will be lowered for repeated absenteeism or arriving late to class.


Homework assignments are due before class Monday. Please e-mail homework to nicholas_price -at- nb204 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 asked to write one of two types of assignments. Make sure you know which type is being assigned each week.

    A) a referee's report (750-1250 words total)

Please evaluate the paper as if you were a referee reviewing this manuscript for an editor at a journal. Your referee's report must contain two parts:
- a summary (<500 words) of the paper. Summarize the major question(s) addressed by this study, the study's major methods, and their major results/conclusions.
- a critique (~500 words) of the paper. The goal of this critique is to assess the positives and negatives of this study, and to help the editor decide whether to publish it. Some instructors may choose papers that are clearly flawed or clearly quite good, and so some of your reports may be much more positive than others. Your critique must explicitly address the following:

  1. Is the major question addressed by this study an interesting one?
  2. Are the authors' conclusions supported by their results? (Consider whether different interpretations would be equally plausible.)
  3. Are additional experiments required before the authors can persuade you of their interpretation? If so, what?
  4. As a referee, would you recommend publication of this study in the journal where it ultimately appeared?

Focus your critique on the scientific substance of the paper, and avoid dwelling on superficial issues (like the tone, style, or grammar of the manuscript). If you prefer to intermingle summary and critique, that's OK, but make sure you spend at least half your review in critique mode.

    B) a "news and views" essay (750-1250 words total)

Please write a commentary on this paper. Pretend that your essay will appear in the same issue of the journal as the paper you are discussing. The goal of this commentary is to help readers understand the context of this study. These essays generally have a positive tone, although they often point out (diplomatically) an important caveat of the paper. Your commentary must explicitly address the following:

  1. What is the major question addressed by this study?
  2. Why is this question interesting?
  3. What is the background to this paper? (In other words, what gap in the literature does this study fill, or what controversy does it help settle? As a non-expert, this may require a little bit of outside reading on your part.)
  4. How did the authors go about answering this question? Briefly summarize the design, experimental methods, and conclusions of the most important experiments in this study.
  5. What overall conclusions did the authors reach regarding the major question they undertook to answer?
  6. Point out major caveats in the study (if any), and outline obvious future directions of this research (if any).

Feel free to address these points in whatever order makes the most sense.

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. Before starting to write, please review the big ideas presented in the four "concept lectures" during the semester. Think about what major concepts covered during the course this paper pertains to, and use your understanding of these concepts as you write your referee's report and your commentary.

See here for the 2006 website.

Please direct comments and questions on the course to Nic Price:
  nicholas_price -at-