Neurobiology Curriculum (GRAD)
The Neuroscience Curriculum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a broadly based interdisciplinary graduate training program in the neurosciences. With strong research funding and a long and successful training history, the curriculum ranks among the best programs in the country.
The program has 74 primary faculty members who can serve as dissertation advisors. Research opportunities in the curriculum are supported by the presence of an active neuroscience community at UNC–Chapel Hill. This community includes members of every basic science department in the School of Medicine, members of many clinical departments, as well as several departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. University research and clinical centers with a neuroscience component also contribute to the vibrant and active community that makes neurobiology a major intellectual focus at UNC–Chapel Hill.
The Neuroscience Curriculum enrolls an average of 45 students at different levels of training at any given time; typically, five to ten students are accepted each year depending on available funding. Students in the curriculum are supported during their first and/or second years by a long-standing training grant funded through NINDS, and in subsequent years by either their mentor's research grants or individual fellowships. The average time to graduation is 5.3 years.
Neuroscience is by its very nature an interdisciplinary endeavor, and at UNC–Chapel Hill the neuroscience curriculum provides a broadly structured training curriculum and research environment that spans the range from genetic studies of the nervous system through the complexities of human cognitive function.
Applicants are urged to complete their applications through BBSP by early December.
Courses required for the Ph.D. degree in neuroscience include Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience (NBIO722 Fall) and Systems and Translational Neuroscience (NBIO723 Spring). Students are expected to enroll in both semesters of this course sequence.
The purpose of the course in Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience is to explore the experimental and theoretical basis for current concepts of nervous system function. The course runs as a series of three blocks in the fall semester and three blocks in the spring semester. This is NOT a survey course in neuroscience. The goals of the course are not so much to inform as to foster an understanding of how we accumulate our knowledge and hypotheses, not to provide a complete textbook picture of the functioning nervous system as we currently know it but to provide the intellectual tools and skills to evaluate current and future hypotheses, not so much to provide answers to questions as to attempt to define the unanswered questions.
Block 1 (NBIO 722 Fall) – Neuroscience Bootcamp: Introduction to Techniques Used in Studying the Nervous System/Electrical Signaling (~19 sessions) Because students taking the core course have diverse backgrounds, this block is divided into two sections.
Block 1a – Neuroscience Bootcamp: Introduction to Techniques Used in Studying the Nervous System (~9 sessions). The first block serves as an introduction to neuroscience as well as an overview of many of the techniques students will encounter while reading materials and papers for the rest of the course. Examples of topics covered include statistics and hypothesis testing, molecular biology and genetic engineering, confocal microscopy, and functional anatomy of the rodent brain. Fall. Jensen, Itano, S. Cohen, Brenman.1
Block 1b – Electrical Signaling (~10 sessions). This block introduces materials related to electrical excitability of neurons. Topics include ion channels, membrane potentials, generation and propagation of action potentials, dendritic excitability, and computational neuroscience as it relates to electrical signaling of neurons. Fall. Frohlich, Kato, Kasten, Manis.1
Block 2 – Synaptic Mechanisms (~10 sessions). This block focuses on synaptic mechanisms of neurotransmitter release and termination of signaling, as well as intracellular signaling cascades that are regulated by synaptic transmission. Topics include electrophysiological and molecular analysis of neurotransmitter release, short-term plasticity in neurotransmitter release, synaptic plasticity, calcium signaling and regulation of intracellular signaling cascades, and gene expression. Fall. Philpot, Reissner1, McElligott, Dudek.
Block 3 – Receptors (~10 sessions). This block focuses on neurotransmitter signaling through distinct receptor subclasses. Topics include G-protein coupled receptors and associated signaling, receptor binding theory, ionotropic and metabotropic glutamate and GABA receptors, receptor trafficking and localization. Fall. McElligott, Herman, Scherrer, Diering1.
Block 4 – Development of the Nervous System (NBIO 723 Spring) (~11 sessions). This block focuses on molecular mechanisms of neuronal development and their relation to disease. Topics include neurogenesis, neural stem cells, molecular control of axonal guidance and neuronal migration, and cell and synaptic adhesions molecules. Spring. Shiau, Maness, Anton, Deshmukh, Gupton, Song1, Stein.
Block 5 – Anatomy and Function of Sensory and Motor Systems (~17 sessions). This block focuses on the neural circuitry that comprises sensory and motor systems. Topics include organization and function of the retina and visual cortex, mechanosensation, genetically defined circuits for nociception, organization and function of somatosensory cortex, motor cortex, basal ganglia neural circuitry, and cerebellar organization and function. Spring. Zylka,1 Manis, Fitzpatrick, Snider, Weiss, Cheney.
Block 6 – Neurobiology of Disease (~12 sessions). This block focuses on the neurobiological underpinnings of disease. For each topic the disease and its impact on society is introduced, and then detailed discussions of the molecular, genetic underpinnings and circuit and behavioral consequences of the disorder are presented. Topics include epilepsy, addiction, fear and anxiety circuitry, schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. This block also includes two classes devoted to human neuroimaging methods such at fMRI and DTI. Spring. Gilmore, Cohen1, Ditcher, Stein, Zylka.
denotes the head of the block
Communication of Scientific Results Neurobiology (NBIO 850)
The class teaches the principles for giving effective talks. The course also covers how to introduce speakers, prepare slides, and speak with the public about science. Spencer Smith currently directs the course, with additional faculty members participating in each class. The class is limited to Neuroscience Curriculum students. Students prepare talks, refine them in small groups (three to four students), and then present them in class. The in-class talk is videotaped, and these tapes are reviewed by the students in a session with their peers. After another round of refining their talks with their small group, the students give their polished talks to the department in a formal setting. Writing is critiqued in class, with peers and guest faculty members all offering input. The videotaped reviews and peer critiques help tremendously to teach effective speaking and writing methods in NBIO 850 (a.k.a. PClass); thus, preparing students for the next stage in their scientific careers. Fall. Song, Phanstiel.
Neuroanalytics (NBIO 750)
The purpose of this course is to provide both practical and theoretical training in advanced data analysis approaches commonly used in neuroscience research. Over the past 10 years there has been a dramatic shift within the field from relatively simple data analysis approaches such as calculating means and standard errors of grouped data, to now performing complex analysis on higher dimensional datasets to uncover unappreciated features. The material in this course should be immediately useful to any student who is working with modern data collected in neuroscience, from sequencing, electrophysiology, imaging, biochemistry, and behavior. The concepts in the course will be taught through programming in python. While understanding mathematical concepts behind analysis is important, we will largely focus on the big picture and try to illustrate concepts by emphasizing graphical representations of how datasets are treated with these approaches. Throughout the course, we will utilize real-world neuroscience data from a variety of sub-disciplines as examples, and also focus on teaching the implications and limitations of the approaches we cover. At the end of the course, students should have a solid foundation of scientific computing, which will prepare them to independently conduct analysis of their own data or prepare them for more advanced courses. Spring even numbered years. Stein.
Neuroscience Seminar Series (NBIO 893)
Diverse but current topics in all aspects of neuroscience. Relates new techniques and current research of notables in the field of neuroscience. Content focuses on presentations by invited, non-UNC faculty, UNC faculty, and mini-series presentations from current neuroscience students. Topics vary from week to week. Students in the curriculum are expected to attend and participate in the neuroscience seminar series, and in particular year 2 and 3 students will be enrolled in NBIO 893 each semester, for which their attendance and participation in seminars and dissertation defenses is tracked and graded. Fall and spring. Brenman.
On the curriculum's website, the courses menu lists descriptions of the core courses of the neuroscience curriculum; other selected offerings are shown under the electives menu. Additional elective courses in biochemistry, statistics, molecular biology, physiology, etc., are available to compensate for specific deficiencies or enhance training. It is the current philosophy of the curriculum faculty that students should receive a broad exposure to as many aspects of neuroscience as reasonable, from molecules and genetics through systems, behavior, and human diseases of the nervous system.
The following is a partial list of courses that neuroscience students may consider for their elective requirements.
Microscopy (NBIO 731)
Special Topics in Neuroscience: The Methods in Genetic Engineering (NBIO 890-002)
Special Topics in Neuroscience: Network Neuroscience (NBIO 890-003)
Developmental Neuroscience (NBIO 724)
Neural Information Processing (NBIO 729)
Introductory Statistics for Laboratory Scientists (BBSP 710)
Gene Brain Behavior Interactions in Neurodevelopmental Disorders: Towards an Integration of Perspectives on Disease Mechanisms (NBIO 800)
Clinical Syndromes and Neurodevelopmental Disorders (NBIO 801)
Neurocircuits and Behavior Journal Club (NBIO 733)
Biological Bases of Behavior I (PSYC 701)
Biological Bases of Behavior II (PSYC 702)
Translational Seminar in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience (NBIO 727)
Neuropharmacology of Alcohol and Substance Abuse (PHCO 728)
Principles of Statistics Infer (BIOS 600)
Research Ethics (GRAD 721)
Seminar in the Biological Foundations of Psychology (PSYC 708 )
Statistical Methods in Psychology (PSYC 830 )
Eva Anton, Neural Circuitry in the Cerebral Cortex
Aysenil Belger, Cortical Circuits Underlying Attention and Executive Function in the Brain
Joyce Besheer,Neurobiological Mechanisms Underlying Alcoholism and Addiction
Charlotte Boettiger, Neurobiological Mechanisms of Executive Function Irregularities in Addiction
Jay Brenman, AMP-Activated Protein Kinase (AMPK) Plays a Central Role in Energy Balance/Metabolism
Regina Carelli, Brain Reward Processes
Richard Cheney, Fundamental Cell Biology Unconventional Myosins, Filopodia, and Motility
Fulton Crews, Molecular Aspects of Neuronal Vitality and Alcohol
Mohanish Deshmukh, Mechanisms of Apoptosis Regulation in Neurons, Stem Cells, and Cancer Cells
Gabriel Dichter, Understanding and Improving Treatments for Neurodevelopmental and Neuropsychiatric Disorders
Serena Dudek (NIEHS), Connections in the Brain (Synapses) Change in Response to Activity
Rebecca Fry, Environmental Exposures Associated with Human Disease, Focusing on Genomic and Epigenomic Perturbations
John Gilmore, Human Brain Development, Immune Regulation of Neurodevelopment, Schizophrenia
Stephanie Gupton, Coordination and Regulation of Cytoskeletal Dynamics and Membrane Trafficking
Klaus Hahn, Understand Cell Behaviors Mediated by Structural Dynamics
Clyde Hodge, Neurobehavioral Pharmacology and Pharmacogenomics of Addiction
Patricia Jensen (NIEHS), Genetic and Environmental Perturbations During Development
Tom Kash, Synaptic Transmission and Plasticity
Donald Lysle, Neuroimmunology, Learning Processes
Patricia Maness, Cell Adhesion and Signal Transduction in Developing Neurons
Paul Manis, Cellular Basis of Auditory Information Processing in Brainstem and Cortex
Rick Meeker, Neuroendocrine Regulation, Glutamate Receptors, Mechanisms of AIDS Dementia
Mark Peifer, Cell Adhesion, Signal Transduction, and Cytoskeletal Regulation in Development and Disease
Benjamin Philpot, Modification of the Cerebral Cortex by Sensory Experience
Joseph Piven, Pathogenesis of Autism, Genetic Basis, and Neuropsychological and Behavioral Phenotype
Donita Robinson, Chemistry and Physiology of the Nucleus Accumbens
Bryan Roth, GPCR Structure and Function, Drug Discovery
David Rubinow, Neurobehavioral Effects of Gonadal Steroids, Behavioral Responses to Changes in Steroid Signaling
Lisa Tarrantino, Genes That Increase Risk for Psychiatric Disorders
Todd Thiele, Neurobiology of Alcoholism
Jenny Ting, Use of Murine Models in the Regulation of Inflammatory Genes in Demyelination and Remyelination
Richard Weinberg, Organization of the Postsynaptic Density, Calcium Sources and Actin-Binding Proteins in Spines
Ellen Weiss, Regulation of G-Protein Signaling Pathways, Visual Signal Transduction
Mark Zylka, Molecules and Mechanisms for Pain
Todd Cohen, Alzheimer's Disease, Frontotemporal Dementia, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Doug Fitzpatrick, Neuronal Bases of Sound Localization Performance
Flavio Frohlich, Cortical Networks Generate Physiological, Pathological Activity States
Kelly Giovanello, Exploring the Cognitive and Neural Processes Mediating Memory in Young Adults
Adam Hantman, Neural Networks and Motor Control
Erin Heinzen, Neurodevelopment Disease Genetics
Melissa Herman, Inhibitory Microcircuitry Governing Network Function in Motivated Behaviors
Shawn Hingtgen, Stem Cells, Treatment of Terminal Cancers, Brain Cancer
Joseph Hopfinger, Cognitive Psychology and Perception
Zoe Mcelligott, Mechanisms That Underlie Affective Disorders — Anxiety, Depression and Substance Abuse
Kathryn Reissner, Chronic Self-Administration of Cocaine, Neuronastrocyte Communication, Long-Term Drug Seeking
Kim Ritola, Optimization of Viral Tools (NeuroTools) for Brain Development and Disease
Gregory Scherrer, Pain and Opioids
Yen-Yu Ian Shih, Developing and Applying Innovative MRI Technologies in Neurovascular Functions of the Brain
Juan Song, Adult Neurogenesis Function and Regulation
Jason Stein, Genetic Effects on Multiple Aspects of the Human Brain
Martin Styner, Medical Imaging Analysis
Katie Baldwin, Function and Development of Glial Cells
Alana Campbell, Cognitive Control and Emotional Processes
Jessica Cohen, Functional Brain Networks Interaction When Confronted with Changing Cognitive Emands
Sarah Cohen, Lipid Trafficking
Daniel Christoffel, Behavioral Impacts on Brain Function and Adaptation
Leon Coleman, Alcohol Use Disorders and Pathologies
Eran Dayan, Brain Connectivity, Functional Neuroimaging
Graham Diering, Molecular Mechanisms of Sleep Function Impact on the Brain
Sylvia Fitting, Structural and Functional Consequences of Behavior/Neurocognition in Disease
Toshi Hige, Mechanisms of Behavioral Responses in Regards to Synaptic Plasticity, Neural Circuit and Behavior
Michelle Itano, Microscopy Optimization for Visualizing Living Networks
Hiroyuki Kato, Neural Encoding of Complex Auditory Stimuli
Kristen Lindquist, Nature of Emotion
Scott Parnell, Effects of Drug Abuse During Early Development, the Underlying Mechanisms of Birth Defects
Nicolas Pegard, Computational Optics, Imaging Systems, Optical Instrumentation and Digital Interfaces
Jose Rodriguez-Romaguera, Neuronal Circuits that Drive Hyperarousal
Mark Shen, Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Celia Shiau, Genetic, Cellular and Developmental Systems for Vertebrate Biology
Jessica Walsh, Molecular and Circuit Understanding of Behavior
Morika D. Williams, Molecular Mechanisms of Neurophysiological Pain Processing
Hyejung Won, Genetic Risk Factors for Psychiatric Illnesses and Neurobiological Mechanisms
Guorong Wu, Developing Computational Tools for Understanding Brain Pathology
Anthony Zannas, Epigenetic Changes and How They Contribute to Stress-Related Somatic and Behavioral Phenotypes
Advanced Undergraduate and Graduate-level Courses
Graduate standing required. A survey of psychological and biological approaches to the study of sensory and perceptual information processing, with an emphasis on touch and pain.
A survey of psychological and biological approaches to the study of basic learning and higher integrative processing.
Each fall one special topic will be covered in depth (e.g., neural bases of memory storage, homeostasis, and perception). Format includes lectures and seminar meetings with student presentations.
This course provides a critical analysis of interdisciplinary research within experimental psychology, including such topics as psychopharmacology, psychoneuroimmunology, psychophysiology, and animal models of brain/behavior disorders.
Basic principles of pharmacology and behavior analysis are considered in relation to drugs that affect the central nervous system.
Limited to graduate students in psychology, neuroscience, and neurobiology. Experimental design, hypothesis testing, power analyses, ANOVAs, regression, correlations. Hands on data analysis with you being able to use your own data sets. Analyses will be conducted with SPSS and Prism. Permission of the instructor.
An intensive and comprehensive hands-on laboratory-oriented course in light microscopy for researchers in biology, medicine, and materials science. This course will focus on advanced quantitative fluorescence microscopy techniques used for imaging a range of biological specimens, from whole organisms, to tissues, to cells, and to single molecules. This course emphasizes the quantitative issues that are critical to the proper interpretation of images obtained with light microscopes.
Topics include extracellular matrices, immunology, inflammation, neurobiology, and pain management.
Introduces topics including brain cell biology, molecular biology applied to neurons, membrane potentials and imaging methods. The second block introduces such topics as resistance, capacitance, passive membranes, classes of ion channels, potassium and calcium channels, and action potential initiation. Final blocks, focus on neurotransmitter release and signaling through distinct receptor subclasses. Topics include G-protein coupled receptors and associated signaling, receptor binding/ligand theory, ionotropic and metabotropic glutamate and GABA receptors, receptor trafficking and localization. Permission of the department.
Permission of the department. This course explores the experimental and theoretical function of the nervous system. Typically, the first hour is fundamental material presentation and the second hour may be a presentation led by the students. Topics covered include: cellular diversity in the CNS, gross brain anatomy, human and rodent brain imaging, neuromolecular genetics, behavioral methods, membrane potentials/resistance/capacitance, ion channel structure, electrophysiology and propagation of electrical signals in neurons. Basic undergraduate biology, chemistry, physics and intro calculus is assumed.
Permission of the department. Consideration of membrane receptor molecules activated by neurotransmitters in the nervous system with emphasis on ligand binding behavior and molecular and functional properties of different classes of receptors. Course meets for four weeks with six lecture hours per week.
Block one covers neural stem cells, glial development, neural cell death and neurotrophin. The second block introduces the sensory pathways of vision, audition, taste, olfaction, pain, and touch, and the motor pathways of the spinal cord, basal ganglia, cerebellum, and motor cortex. Includes sensory information processing, motor execution, peripheral and central mechanisms of pain. Final block covers CNS imaging, regeneration, and such diseases as Alzheimer's, ALS, Parkinson's, epilepsy, addiction, autism, and schizophrenia. Permission of the department required.
A survey of nervous system development emphasizing detailed analysis of selected research topics such as neuronal induction, neural crest development, neuronal differentiation, synapse formation, neurotrophic factors, glial development, and the effects of experience.
Permission of the instructor. Six or more laboratory hours a week.
Introduces new neuroimaging techniques and their application to the study of neural correlates of cognitive and behavioral impairments in brain disorders. Reviews the theories and research methodologies that investigate how brain functions support and give rise to mental operations such as attention, memory, emotions, social cognition in the healthy brain.
Explores the basic neurobiology and the clinical aspects of a range of diseases of the nervous system, including ALS, Alzheimer's, autism, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, deafness, epilepsy, pain, brain tumors, stroke, Parkinson's, and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Additional required preparation, one year of calculus, familiarity with MATLAB or Python, or permission of the instructor. A discussion/reading seminar covering the fundamentals of nervous system information processing and integration, with examples from sensory systems.
This course aims to provide the knowledge one may need to understand the reach of microscopy imaging techniques, to be able to choose the right imaging modality, label the sample, carry out the experiment, analyze data, troubleshoot any pitfalls that may occur, and put together a custom optical setup.
Overview of structures and biological determinants of conditions and diseases of the oral cavity. Both growth and development and pathophysiology will be introduced in the context of three areas of oral biology: biology of extracellular matrices, host-pathogens interactions, and orofacial neurobiology.
This is journal club course will meet once per week for 90 minutes to discuss new research papers focused on delineating how neurocircuits function to orchestrate various behavioral states. Papers for discussion will be chosen by the instructor and students, and students will rotate in leading discussions.
Required preparation, two semesters of biochemistry.
The purpose of this course is to provide both practical and theoretical training in advanced data analysis approaches commonly used in neuroscience research. Making biological insights into complex neuroscience data requires familiarity with computer programming, distributed computing, visualization, and statistics. This course aims to provide an introduction to these analysis techniques to make the aspiring neuroscientist comfortable with data science.
The basic principles guiding in the formation and maintenance of human nervous system and how do distinct genetic/ epigenetic disruptions during development cause different types of human neurodevelopmental disorders. The intent of this course is to present latest advances in developmental neuroscience in the context of this theme. Topics covered IMII include neural patterning, neurogenesis, neural cell ate specification, neuronal migration, axon/dendritic growth and connectivity.
This seminar examines the topics of genetics, neuroanatomy, physiology, and behavioral development to provide a broad-based and integrated background to understand the etiology and potential mechanism underlying neurodevelopmental disorders.
This seminar will review the epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment of neurodevelopmental syndromes and disorders. Topics will range from single gene (e.g. fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis) to complex genetic (e.g., autism, schizophrenia), to environmental disorders with varied phenotypes, pathogenetic mechanisms, and treatments.
Learning modern day techniques and approaches to convey scientific results effectively as a public speaker. Teaching how to implement the key aspects of effective presentation of scientific findings in public settings. Understanding the key components of an effective public talk including scientific content, body language, and voice. Learning how to captivate the target audience and yet still convey data driven scientific findings.
Permission of the instructor. Advanced seminar in comparative animal behavior. May be repeated for credit.
Advanced seminar in comparative physiology.
Special topics in neurobiology. Content will vary from semester to semester.
Permission of the instructor. Individually arranged in-depth programs of selected topics such as membrane function, transport physiology, renal physiology, etc.
Diverse but current topics in all aspects of neuroscience. Relates new techniques and current research of notables in the field of neuroscience. Content focuses on presentations by invited, non-UNC faculty, UNC faculty and mini-series presentations from current Neuroscience students. Topics vary from week to week.
Permission of the department. Research in various aspects of neurobiology. Six to 24 hours a week.
Course is designed to certify that the students have achieved a high level of knowledge competence in clinical and basic neurosciences, without the rigorous research experience required of a Ph.D.
Director of Graduate Studies
Student Services Manager