Understanding the Brain
01: Historical Underpinnings of Neuroscience
Our picture of the brain has changed markedly since antiquity, when it was considered an organ of minor importance. This lecture traces the major paradigm shifts in our understanding of the brain and the contributions of such pioneers as Leonardo da Vinci, René Descartes, and Thomas Willis, the "father of neurology."
02: Central Nervous System-Gross Organization
This lecture covers the overall organization of the brain and spinal cord and defines important terms and concepts, focusing on areas of the central nervous system that can be viewed from the outside. Neuroanatomists divide the brain into five major regions from rostral (front) to caudal (back).
03: Central Nervous System-Internal Organization
We examine how the central nervous system is organized internally, starting with the basic unit: the nerve cell or neuron. The brain and spinal cord are made up of concentrations of neuronal cell bodies called nuclei (gray matter) and bundles of axons coursing between them (white matter).
04: Central Nervous System-Subdivisions
The hundreds of nuclei in the brain can be grouped into specialized systems for sensation, learning, memory, and other functions. Regions of white matter can also be subdivided into functional types; for example, projection pathways connect different areas, like the motor cortex and the spinal cord.
05: Cortex-Lobes and Areas
The cerebral cortex is the outer layer of neurons or "bark" covering the brain. Considered the seat of the mind, it is where cognition and other higher-order functions such as language, intellect, and memory take place. The cortex can be divided into four lobes, each comprised of areas that are associated with specific functions.
06: Cortex-Sensory, Motor, and Association Areas
This lecture introduces the traditional and modern classification of sensory, motor, and association cortex. One of the crucial discoveries of the past 40 years is that much of what was previously called association cortex is actually sensory in function. For example, there are many more cortical areas devoted to vision than previously thought.
07: Central Nervous System-Development
We investigate how the brain's subdivisions and different cell types are generated during the remarkable process of development. From a few cells, a human brain forms that is capable of regulating the function of all the other organs as well as producing a theory of relativity or appreciating Bach.
08: Central Nervous System-Cellular Organization
This lecture focuses on the structural and functional differences between the two main types of cells in the central nervous system: neurons and glial cells. The name glia ("glue") derives from the historical view that glia simply hold the brain together, but modern neuroscience has revealed that these cells have many other functions. There are about 100 billion neurons and 10 to 100 tim...
09: Pathways and Synapses
Unlike most cells in the body, neurons are designed to receive and transmit information. How do they do it? The critical factor is the internal and external environment of neurons, where changes in the distribution of ions (charged atoms) act as a signaling mechanism for encoding and transmitting information.
Neurotransmitters are specialized chemical messengers that signal activity from one neuron to another. More than 60 neurotransmitters/neuromodulators have been identified, including simple amino acids like glutamate; enkephalins and endorphins, which are involved in the processing of pain; and dopamine, which plays a role in reward and addiction.
This lecture uses the damage caused by stroke to review material covered up to this point in the course. By understanding the organization of the brain and its blood supply, we can predict which functions will be lost or affected after a stroke impairs the blood flow to specific regions of the brain.
12: The Visual System-The Eye
This lecture investigates how the eye works in concert with the brain. Far from taking a picture of the external world, the eye actually transmits information primarily about edges and contrast to the brain. From this limited input, the brain constructs the visual world we experience in all its complexity and detail.
13: The Visual System-The Cortex
We trace pathways from the retina of the eye to different areas in the cortex, where functions such as face recognition and color perception take place. Color is a fascinating example of how "seeing" is a mental construct; color is not a property of objects in the world but rather a consequence of brain processes.
14: The Auditory System
Like seeing, hearing is a construction of the brain. This lecture discusses how the ear converts pressure waves in the air into electrical signals that travel to the auditory areas of the brain, where they are interpreted as sound. We don't just "hear" sounds; we apply meaning to them, as in our processing of language.
15: The Somatosensory System
The somatosensory system gives us information not only about the immediate external world but also about our own bodies. From receptors in our skin, joints, and other parts of our bodies, parallel pathways transmit information that we experience as the senses of touch, pain, temperature, and proprioception (awareness of where our limbs are).
Agnosia ("without knowledge") is the inability of individuals to recognize some aspect of their sensory experience because of lesions in the brain. This lecture concentrates on visual agnosias, where an individual who can see loses some specific knowledge related to vision, such as the ability to identify faces or to distinguish between stationary and moving objects.
17: The Motor System-Voluntary Movement
Not only do we experience the world, we move around in it. This lecture covers the pathways and brain areas that allow us to make voluntary movements of the body. The motor system is divided into pyramidal, extrapyramidal, and cerebellar subsystems, which work together in normal movement.
18: The Motor System-Coordinated Movement
Coordination of movement, especially learned, skilled motor movement, is largely under the control of the cerebellum. This "little cerebrum" allows for the proper timing and execution of movement and for the correction of errors during ongoing movement. We could not walk, play, or dance without a cerebellum.
19: Parkinson's Disease
Parkinson's disease arises when neurons are lost from a specific area of the brain called the substantia nigra. This removes a major source of input to forebrain structures involved in regulating movement. This lecture covers signs, symptoms, and treatments of this disorder....
The ability to communicate symbolically through language is thought to be unique to our species. Language involves both higher-order sensory and motor areas of the cerebral cortex. Even though written language is an invention, specific areas in the brain underlie this ability as well.
21: The Limbic System-Anatomy
The limbic system represents a large number of interconnected nuclei that together allow for learning, memory, emotion, and executive function. Its importance is dramatically illustrated by the case of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker in the 1840s whose personality was completely altered by a frontal lobe injury involving part of the limbic system.
22: The Limbic System-Biochemistry
This lecture discusses some of the neurotransmitters that are critical in the normal functioning of the limbic system circuits. Damage to this system can cause the delicate balance of excitation and inhibition to be disrupted. Such imbalances are believed to underlie many mental disorders such as depression.
Depression is a scourge of modern societies. This lecture focuses on unipolar depression, a central nervous system disorder that has known anatomical and biochemical correlates. We also investigate how the three major classes of antidepressants work and what led to the development of designer antidepressant drugs, such as Prozac.
24: The Reward System-Anatomy
All humans seek experiences that are rewarding or pleasurable. This lecture covers the brain structures and neurotransmitters involved in reward-in functions as diverse as slaking thirst or enjoying a sunset. The endogenous reward system allows us to tap into the joy of life and engage in the world.
25: The Reward System-Drugs
Psychoactive drugs that produce euphoria or a "high" do so by altering the biochemistry of the endogenous reward system. Such drugs can be both physiologically and psychologically addicting. Using cocaine and marijuana as examples, we investigate how drugs can hijack this system and even produce permanent changes in the brain.
26: Brain Plasticity
Far from being static structures, synapses are highly dynamic and can be modified by experience. This synaptic plasticity underlies learning and memory. We look at several ways synapses can be modified and the neurobiological basis of why memories change with time.
27: Emotion and Executive Function
Truly rational behavior is not possible without emotion, as evidenced in humans by the tremendous elaboration and interconnection of structures involved in both emotion and executive function. Emotion, memory, and cognition combine to give meaning to our experiences, which can then be used to influence and guide future behavior.
28: Processing of Negative Emotions-Fear
Fear is often considered a negative emotion, but it is critical for survival. This lecture explores the role played by a small almond-shaped structure called the amygdala in the rapid processing of sensory information signaling threat. The amygdala is implicated in a number of disorders, including posttraumatic stress syndrome.
29: Music and the Brain
The ability to write, read, and perform music requires the coordinated activity of the sensory, motor, language, and limbic systems of the brain. Studies of musicians who have suffered strokes have identified specific brain areas involved in both the composition and appreciation of different features of music, such as rhythm.
30: Sexual Dimorphism of the Brain
At birth our brains are sexually dimorphic, meaning they are either male or female in pattern. While the most dramatic differences in brain structure involve areas associated with sexual behavior and mating, how we experience and interpret the world may also be influenced by the sex of our brains.
31: Sleep and Dreaming
Why do we sleep? What, if anything, do dreams mean? Far from being a passive event, sleep is actively induced and involves areas of the central nervous system extending from the spinal cord to the forebrain. Researchers have also learned a great deal about the types of dreams that occur during various stages of sleep.
32: Consciousness and the Self
Why does consciousness appear to be something that is happening to a "me"? What is the "me"? We explore these and other questions surrounding the nature of consciousness. We also delve more deeply into some of the cases discussed in Lecture 16 on agnosias, re-examining what is actually lost in cortical blindness, prosopagnosia, and contralateral neglect.
33: Alzheimer's Disease
This lecture uses the number one neurological disorder in the United States-Alzheimer's disease-as a clinical example to bring together much of the information given in the course. The signs and symptoms of the disease can be understood by looking at the particular brain areas most affected.
34: Risk Factors for Alzheimer's Disease
We look at what has been learned about factors that appear to increase or decrease the risk of contracting Alzheimer's disease, focusing on a study of Catholic nuns who showed a very low incidence of the disorder. This study and others suggest ways to make positive lifestyle changes that may help ward off this dreaded disease.
35: Wellness and the Brain-Effects of Stress
Our brain has mechanisms that allow for rapid response to threatening events by preparing us for fight or flight. Unfortunately, in our modern world we respond to everyday stressors as though they were life-threatening events. This lecture reviews evidence that chronic activation of this system has deleterious effects on our health.
36: Neuroscience-Looking Back and Looking Ahead
We summarize the course, survey present research challenges, and address the question: What does our remarkable understanding of the brain tell us about ourselves? Our ability to reason, feel, or even act morally may be the result of neural processes, but this does not denigrate our experiences or our uniqueness as a species.