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Medical Neuroscience

Part of the Neuroscience: Perception, Action and the Brain Specialization »

Explore the structure and function of the human central nervous system. Learn why knowledge of human neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neural plasticity, and new discovery in the brain sciences matters for clinical practice in the health professions.


Course at a Glance

About the Course

Medical Neuroscience explores the organization and physiology of the human central nervous system. This course is designed for first-year students in graduate-level health professions programs. It builds upon knowledge acquired in prior studies of cellular and molecular biology, general physiology, and human anatomy. The course provides students an understanding of the essential principles of neurological function, from cellular and molecular mechanisms of neural signaling and plasticity to the organization and function of sensory and motor systems. This course emphasizes the neural and vascular anatomy of the human brain and spinal cord, providing an anatomical framework for localizing lesions within the central nervous system. It also emphasizes the neurobiological foundation for understanding cognition, mental illness and disorders of human behavior.

The overall goal is to equip students in the health professions for interpreting impairments of sensation, action and cognition that accompany neurological injury, disease or dysfunction. Students currently pursuing advanced studies in the brain sciences will benefit from this course by learning the fundamentals of functional human neuroanatomy and how neuroscience discovery translates to clinical practice.  Health professionals will benefit from the opportunity to review and update knowledge of foundational medical neuroscience.

Course Syllabus

This course comprises four units of content:

  • Unit 1 Neuroanatomy. This unit covers the surface anatomy of the human brain, its internal structure, and the overall organization of sensory and motor systems in the brainstem and spinal cord.
  • Unit 2 Neural signaling. This unit addresses the fundamental mechanisms of neuronal excitability, signal generation and propagation, synaptic transmission, post synaptic mechanisms of signal integration, and neural plasticity.
  • Unit 3 Sensory systems. Here, you will learn the overall organization and function of the sensory systems that contribute to our sense of self relative to the world around us: somatic sensory systems, proprioception, vision, audition, and balance senses.
  • Unit 4 Motor systems. In this unit, we will examine the organization and function of the brain and spinal mechanisms that govern bodily movement.
  • Unit 5 Brain Development. Next, we turn our attention to the neurobiological mechanisms for building the nervous system in embryonic development and in early postnatal life; we will also consider how the brain changes across the lifespan.
  • Unit 6 Cognition. The course concludes with a survey of the association systems of the cerebral hemispheres, with an emphasis on cortical networks that integrate perception, memory and emotion in organizing behavior and planning for the future; we will also consider brain systems for maintaining homeostasis and regulating brain state.

Recommended Background

To be successful in this course, a college-level background in cellular and molecular biology and general knowledge of systems physiology and human anatomy is strongly recommended.

Suggested Readings

Although the course is designed to be self-contained for students with the recommended background, students wanting to expand their knowledge and reinforce their understanding are strongly encouraged to complete all recommended readings.  The primary reference text for this course is Neuroscience, 5th Ed., by Purves et al. (Sinauer Assoc., Inc.).  This text is bundled with neuroanatomical software,  Sylvius 4 Online: An Interactive Atlas and Visual Glossary of Human Neuroanatomy, (also available as a standalone subscription).

Course Format

The course consists of video tutorials delivered by Professor White, a neuroscientist, educator, and course director in the Duke University School of Medicine. Typically, these videos contain 1 or more integrated multiple-choice questions. Regular quizzes and application experiences focused on functional neuroanatomy and problem-solving through clinical case studies will assist students in keeping pace with course content. An exam focused on clinical neuroanatomy will be administered in the final few weeks of the course, and a comprehensive final exam is administered at the conclusion of the course. Learning will be supported by recommended textbook readings and interactive activities using digital atlases of the human brain and spinal cord. Each video tutorial will be accompanied by tutorial notes that will guide learning.


  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment for completing this course?

    Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

  • Who should enroll in this course?

    You should take this course if you are currently enrolled in a health professions curriculum or are preparing to do so having satisfied the usual prerequisites. This course is designed to provide you with the foundational knowledge you will need in basic neuroscience and clinical neuroanatomy. If you are pursuing advanced studies in the brain sciences or a related biomedical or bioengineering field, then you will take away an understanding of human brain anatomy and insight into how ongoing discovery in neuroscience is shaping clinical practice.  If you are a health professional, this course will provide a productive means for reviewing and updating your knowledge or foundational neuroscience.  Lastly, if you are simply curious about the structure and function of the human brain, but have no aspirations to apply this knowledge in the health or research professions, you too can have an engaging and fulfilling experience, provided that you are willing to commit to all assigned readings, videos, and assessments.

  • Should I enroll in Medical Neuroscience or Foundational Neuroscience for Perception and Action?

    if you are currently enrolled in a health professions curriculum or are preparing to do so having satisfied the usual prerequisites, then you should take Medical Neuroscience. This course is designed to provide you with the foundational knowledge you will need in basic neuroscience and clinical neuroanatomy for success in the health professions. Moreover, it is longer, more comprehensive, and more consistent with the rigors of medical education than the shorter course derived from this content, Foundational Neuroscience for Perception and Action. On the other hand, if your interests are not so clinical or if you are mainly looking for foundational knowledge of how the brain works at the levels of cells, synapses, circuits and sensorimotor systems, then Foundational Neuroscience for Perception and Action is for you. Or maybe you just don't have 12 weeks to devote to an intense medical-school caliber course; then, the shorter course is the better option. Either way, both courses fulfill the requirements for our specialization.

  • What is the intellectual difficulty of this course?

    The intellectual challenge and content level of this course is comparable to what first-year students in the graduate-level health professions would experience.  This is why the course is expected to require 16-20 hours per week of effort.

  • Is there a required textbook for this course?

    You can be successful in this course without acquiring Neuroscience, 5th Ed. However, your experience will be significantly enhanced if you acquire the text and complete all recommended readings and learning activities using the bundled neuroanatomical software.