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Great Controversies in Neurobiology

Instructor: Carlos Aizenman, Dept. of Neuroscience, Brown University

Diagram of the cerebellum of the chick by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, 1906.


Class topics and schedule of assignnments. Link to reading material through here

Student Pages

List of students in class

Course Announcements


Final Projects

Portal to final project pages and draft


Links to class related resources

Discussion Forum

General class forum, you can also leave comments in individual pages


Weekly assignment turn in

Test page

Feel free to edit and muck around at will in this page


This is the home page and course Wiki for Neuro 193E, "Great Controversies in Neurobiology". This upper-level course examines some of the great controversies in the history of neurobiology. Reading material is drawn primarily from the primary scientific literature, so students are expected to already be familiar with reading scientific papers. Each theme will focus on a particular controversy, examining experimental evidence supporting both sides of the issue. We will read both classic papers and more modern approaches that revisit the original controversy. For a final project students will team up in groups and pick a topic to present to the class in the form of a "debate" supported by arguments drawn from the original literature. Students will also work collaboratively to generate an online, hyperlinked version of their final projects using the Confluence wiki software. Examples of topics are: The Neuron Doctrine vs. Reticular Theory, Chemical vs. Electrical Synaptic Transmission, Role of Experience in Brain Wiring, Postsynaptic vs. Presynaptic Changes During Synaptic Plasiticty, etc. Enrollment limited to 16. Written permission required.

Course Organization

This site will be used to distribute reading materials, provide feedback, make annnouncements and to generate the final projects.
Most of the material on this site is fully editable by members of the class, a tutorial on how to edit will be given during the first or second class. Each student will have their own user page, which should contain their contact information. Each week we will examine a different topic and two students will be chosen to prepare a short (10-15 min) presentation providing background and context to the papers being discussed. We will then have a general discussion about the research papers for that week. If possible papers will be assigned which show contrasting results, and the students should discuss some possible reasons as to why the papers reach opposite conclusions, focusing on the methodology used, and the interpretation and quality of the data. All students are expected to read all the background and primary reading material and to be active participants in the discussion, and might be quizzed randomly by the instructor. Midway through the semester, students will be paired up in teams of two and they will choose a topic for a final project. For a final project they will pick a specific controversy in any field of neuroscience, and identify groups of papers which reach opposite conclusions on a specific question. The final projects will be generated online using this Wiki and should contain a general review of the literature related to that topic and then two detailed annotatations of primary articles. Annotations should detail the scientific questions being asked, the methods used, the data obtained and its interpretation. The advantage of using a Wiki, is that the projects can be heavily linked to each other, to the primary literature and to any external resources. Also, other students will be able to view and comment on the progress of other class member's projects, and hyperlink them to their own. Final grades will give equal weight to class participation, presentations and final projects. For specific information about weekly assignment see here.

Reading Material

Course material will be distributed electronically via this site (see Syllabus), or via OCRA, the library's electronic rerserves.

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