Teaching Basic Principles of Neuroscience with Computer Simulations

Evyatar Av-ron, John H Byrne, Douglas A Baxter


It s generally believed that students learn best through activities that require their direct participation. By using simulations as a tool for learning neuroscience, students are directly engaged in the activity and obtain immediate feedback and reinforcement. This paper describes a series of biophysical models and computer simulations that can be used by educators and students to explore a variety of basic principles in neuroscience. The paper also suggests virtual laboratory exercises that students may conduct to further examine biophysical processes underlying neural function. First, the Hodgkin and Huxley (HH) model is presented. The HH model is used to illustrate the action potential, threshold phenomena, and Teaching the basic principles of neuroscience can be greatly enhanced by incorporating realistic and interactive nonlinear dynamical properties of neurons (e.g., oscillations, postinhibitory rebound excitation). Second, the Morris-Lecar (ML) model is presented. The ML model is used to develop a model of a bursting neuron and to illustrate modulation of neuronal activity by intracellular ions. Lastly, principles of synaptic transmission are presented in small neural networks, which illustrate oscillatory behavior, excitatory and inhibitory postsynaptic potentials, and temporal summation.

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