The Developing Brain

Name: The developing brain
Study points: 6 ECTS


Coordinators: Dr. Michel van den Oever, Dr. Rhiannon Meredith

Goal: Students learn about molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie normal and aberrant brain development and thereby shape the life of individuals over time.

Course Content: The brain performs differently at various ages; the young brain being very plastic, whereas the aging brain is gradually losing its adaptive capacity. Importantly, early and late brain development are affected by specific genetic factors and vulnerable to changes induced by environmental stimuli. These alterations can result in neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders.

The course consists of three modules (one week per module), each covering a critical phase of brain development. In module 1, we will focus on early (prenatal) brain development and its relation to brain disorders such as autism and mental retardation. In the second module, we will focus on brain development during childhood and adolescence and discuss issues related to this phase of development, such as gender identity, schizophrenia and the effects of drugs of abuse (alcohol, nicotine). In the last module, we will discuss cognitive decline associated with normal brain aging as well as specific diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Each module contains a keynote lecture related to the topic of the module. Keynote lectures are given by renowned experts in their fields.

Method: Lectures, workgroups (presentation)

Exam material: Content of all lectures

Testing: Exam (80%) and Academic skills assignment (20%). A minimum mark of 5.5 should be obtained for both the exam and the assignment.

Focus Group: Third year bachelor students

Participation: Two years of bachelor education (all directions). A basic understanding of neurons, neurophysiology and molecular biology (DNA, RNA, proteins) is required. For this, we recommend to follow the courses ‘Cognitive Neuroscience’ and ‘Nature versus Nurture’ of this minor.

Central Academic Skill assignment: Science in the media. In small groups, students analyze and present their evaluation of a media coverage of a scientific study.