Fundamentals of Neuroscience, Part 2: Neurons and Networks

An introduction to the networks in your brain.

Discover how neurons work together to create complex networks inside the brain.

Featuring faculty from:
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6 weeks
3-5 hours a week
Certificate Price
Program Dates
Start Part 2 today.

What You'll Learn

Neurons in isolation are fascinating and complicated, but the real magic of neuroscience happens in the interaction between neurons. In this course, we examine how neurons pass signals to one another and how complex dynamics can result from just a few neurons arranged in relatively simple circuits.

Continue your journey through our Fundamentals of Neuroscience series with animations that explore the richness and complexity of the brain, documentaries about working labs around Cambridge.

Join us as we use virtual labs that simulate neuron circuitry as we investigate the collective behavior of neurons and learn how the brain modulates the signals in those networks.

The course will be delivered via edX and connect learners around the world. By the end of the course, participants will learn:

  • Basics of synapses
  • How neurons communicate with each other
  • How interconnected neurons in neuronal circuits interact with each other
  • The role of neuromodulation in the firing of synapses

Your Instructor

Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Computer Science, Harvard University
David Cox is an Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and of Computer Science, and is a member of the Center for Brain Science at Harvard University. He completed his Ph.D. in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT with a specialization in computational neuroscience.
His laboratory seeks to understand the computational underpinnings of visual processing through concerted efforts in both reverse- and forward-engineering. To this end, his group employs a wide range of experimental techniques (ranging from microelectrode recordings in living brains to visual psychophysics in humans) to probe natural systems, while at the same time actively developing practical computer vision systems based on what is learned about the brain.

Course Outline

Neurons in isolation are fascinating and complex, but the real magic of neuroscience becomes manifest when we consider how neurons interact with one another. In this module, we examine how neurons pass signals to one another, and we explore how complex dynamics can result from even small numbers of neurons arranged in relatively simple circuits.

The junctions between neurons, called synapses, allow information to pass from one neuron to another. In lesson 1 “The Synapse,” we explore what synapses are made of, and how they work.

Synapses can be grouped into two categories: synapses that increase the activity of the postsynaptic neuron are called excitatory synapses, while those that decrease its activity are called inhibitory synapses. In lesson 2 “Excitation & Inhibition,” we discuss the main differences between excitatory and inhibitory synapses.

Neurons combine information from many synapses at once in a process known as synaptic integration. In lesson 3 “Small Circuits,” we explore how a neuron integrates information from multiple synapses over time to allow complex signaling.

How many components are there in a synapse? You may think that the answer is simple: two, the presynaptic and the postsynaptic terminals. In lesson 4 “Neuromodulation,” we’ll see that this is not entirely true: the strength of many synapses is directly influenced by a third neuron, in a process called neuromodulation.

One of the most amazing properties of the nervous system is its ability to adapt and change in the face of a changing environment, a phenomenon called "neuronal plasticity." Lesson 5, “Potentiation and Depression,” focuses on how neuronal plasticity occurs in the brain, and how it shapes the way we think and behave.

Ways to take this course

When you enroll in this course, you will have the option of pursuing a Verified Certificate or Auditing the Course.

A Verified Certificate costs $249 and provides unlimited access to full course materials, activities, tests, and forums. At the end of the course, learners who earn a passing grade can receive a certificate. 

Alternatively, learners can Audit the course for free and have access to select course material, activities, tests, and forums. Please note that this track does not offer a certificate for learners who earn a passing grade.

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