Evolutionary Neuroscience :: Syllabus

Term: Fall 2015
Instructor: Daniel Meliza (cdm8j)
Class times: Th 9:00-11:30A, Gilmer 240
Websites: Collab - PSYC 5559 Evol Neurosci
Wordpress (final projects)
Office Hours: by appointment
Last revised: 8/2015

What is this course about?

Our planet has a tremendous diversity of habitats, and all but the most extreme have been colonized by many species of animals, each beautifully adapted for survival and reproduction. These adaptations are not only anatomical but behavioral, and underlying the behavior is the most complex physical structure known to science, the brain. Evolutionary neuroscience attempts to answer questions about how natural selection influences the structure of the brain and the behaviors it produces, as well as historical questions about how the brains of living species evolved and are related to each other through common descent.

Course objectives

This course is intended as an introduction to current methods and topics in evolutionary neuroscience. At the end of this term, you will be able to:

Meeting the objectives

The course is divided into three blocks, each dedicated to an in-depth examination of a question about the evolution of the brain. In the first two blocks, I will choose the topics and assign initial readings that describe a contended question, provide background, and present data in support of the competing hypotheses. We’ll discuss the readings online and in class. In the latter half of each block, you will pick readings and take turns facilitating discussions.

The last block is dedicated to topics of your choice, which will form the basis for your final project. Working in pairs, you’ll take sides on an open question in the field, prepare readings for the rest of the class, facilitate a discussion, and put together a web page that provides a review of the question.

Your progress towards course objectives will be assessed as follows:

Reading responses and forum discussion (15%)

Each week we will read several research papers, reviews, or textbook chapters related to the topic under discussion. After you’ve completed the readings, you’ll submit a short entry to a Collab forum. Entries will be between 200-300 words on one of the following themes:

In-class discussion (30%)

Active participation in class discussions is essential to your learning experience in this course. In order to participate, you must

Of course, none of this can happen unless you are present. If unforeseen events illness, religious holidays, or academic/athletic field trips prevent you from attending, I expect you to notify me ahead of time so we can discuss make-up work. Only major, documented emergencies are acceptable excuses after the fact.

Paper presentations (30%)

You will have two opportunities to choose readings and facilitate discussions as the term progresses. Facilitation involves:

I will act as a co-facilitator on these exercises, but it will be your responsibility to lead. Your grade will be based on a rubric (that I will share with you) that assesses your understanding of the concepts and background, your clear and accurate presentation of the data, and your ability to engage the class in a good discussion.

Your first facilitation will be at the end of one of the first two blocks. Your second facilitation will be done with your project partner on your final project topic.

Final project website (25%)

Working as pairs, you will put together a website that provides a primer for your peers at UVA on a topic in evolutionary neuroscience. You’ll choose a topic that focuses on a well-defined question about one of the following:

You will need to pick a topic with some divergence of opinion in the field, so that you and your partner can focus on different hypotheses or theories. You should each attempt to find the best evidence in support of the hypothesis you’ve picked, and then synthesize your knowledge into a document or set of documents that provides a general introduction to the topic, clearly explains competing hypotheses in the field, and details the evidence in support of each hypothesis.

Your website will develop over the course of the semester, with stops along the way to assess your progress and obtain feedback from me and your classmates.

What materials will you need?

Most of our assigned readings will be primary research papers and reviews that you can find using PubMed, Google Scholar, or VIRGO. Some papers may only be accessible from on grounds or by using the VPN or web proxy as described here. In some cases the readings may not be available online, in which case I will scan them and make them available through the class Collab page.

A number of readings will be assigned from Evolutionary Neuroscience, ed. J.H. Kaas, which is available electronically through this link.

You will probably need to consult additional resources to help you understand some of the concepts we will discuss. Like working research scientists, you can use handbooks, textbooks, online resources, peer-reviewed articles, and personal communications to learn what you need to know to complete the full story surrounding the questions we’ll be addressing. If you need additional help finding sources, please contact me, your reference librarian, or the Source Dorks.

What is the class schedule?

This schedule will be updated with readings and presentations as the semester progresses. Underlined topics will have student facilitators. Check back frequently.

Date Topic Readings Assignments
Block 1 The evolution of the neocortex
8/27 Evolution and variation K1; B&H1
9/3 Vertebrate phylogeny and brain organization B&H3 Choose dates for facilitation
Forey and Janvier (1994), American Scientist 82(6):554-565.
Wada et al (1998), Development 125:1113-1122
9/9 Last day to drop course
9/10 The forebrain B&H19 Choose partners for website
Karten (1969), Annu N Y Acad Sci 167(1):164-179
Puelles et al (2000), J Comp Neurol 424(3):409-438
9/17 Neocortex K21
Dugas-Ford et al (2012), Proc Natl Acad Sci doi:10.1073/pnas.1204773109
9/24 Homologues of neocortex in other amniotes Ush and Pasha
Background: K9
Ahumada-Galleguillos et al (2015), J Comp Neurol doi:10.1002/cne.23808
Reiner (1993), Comp Biochem Physiol 104A(4): 735-748
Block 2 The auditory and vocal forebrain
10/1 Sensory systems and the auditory pathway K9,B&H28 Choose topics for website
10/8 Auditory midbrain Carr and Soares (2002), Brain Behav Evol doi:10.1159/000063565
Volman and Konishi (1990), Brain Behav Evol doi:10.1159/000115307
10/15 (class canceled) Website skeleton posted
10/20 Last day to withdraw from course
10/22 Auditory telencephalon Kayla and Rachel
Rauschecker and Scott (2009), Nat Neurosci doi:10.1038/nn.2331
Hackett et al (2001), J Comp Neurol doi:10.1002/cne.1407
10/29 Vocalization Emily, Erin, and JP Website background posted
Sweeney and Kelley (2014), Curr Opin Neurobiol doi:10.1016/j.conb.2014.06.006
Nowicki and Searcy (2014), Curr Opin Neurobiol doi:10.1016/j.conb.2014.06.007
Bass et al (1994), J Neurosci 14(7): 4025-4039
Pfenning et al (2014), Science doi:10.1126/science.1256846
Haesler et al (2004), J Neurosci doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4369-03.2004
Block 3 Student Topics
11/5 Mosaic vs Concerted Evolution Usnish and Pasha
Herculano-Houzel and Manger (2014), Front Neuroanat doi:10.3389/fnana.2014.00077
Lu et al (2012), Nat Comm 3:1079–1085
Finlay and Darlington (1995), Science 268:1578–1584
Willemet (2012), Brain Sci
11/12 The Amygdala Emily, Kayla, and JP
Goodson (2005), Horm Behav doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2005.02.003
Moreno and Gonzalez (2007), J Comp Neurol doi:10.1002/cne.21422
O’Connell and Hofmann (2012), Science doi:10.1126/science.1218889
11/19 Dopaminergic Pathways Rachel and Erin
Wynne and Güntürkün (1995), J Comp Neuro 357:446-464
Puig et al (2014), Front Neur Circuits doi:10.3389/fncir.2014.00093
Ting-A-Kee et al (2015), Neurosci Biobehav Rev doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.06.016
11/26 Thanksgiving break Draft websites due
12/3 The Human Brain Usui et al (2014), Brain Behav Evol doi:10.1159/000365182 Website comments due
Oldham et al (2006), Proc Natl Acad Sci doi:10.1073/pnas.0605938103
Ponce de León et al (2008), Proc Natl Acad Sci doi:10.1073/pnas.0803917105
12/15 Final website version posted

Professional and academic integrity

As practicing professionals, scientists trust each other to maintain the highest standards of ethics, integrity, and personal responsibility. Since you have joined this community of trust to prepare for your future career, I expect you to fully comply with all of the provisions of the UVa Honor System. In addition to pledging that you have neither received nor given aid on an assignment, your signature also affirms that you have not knowingly represented as your own any opinions or ideas that are attributable to another author in published or unpublished notes, study outlines, abstracts, articles, textbooks, or web pages. In other words, I expect that all assignments and reports are your original work and that references are cited appropriately. Breaking this trust agreement not only will result in zero credit for the assignment in question and referral to the Honor Committee but also will jeopardize your future as a professional scientist or in any field. Don’t let yourself down.

What accomodations are available for students with disabilities?

Students with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations. The Student Disability Access Center (434-243-5180), located in the Elson Student Health Center, can arrange diagnostic testing and make recommendations for specific accommodations. Your Association Dean can also respond to requests for information and assistance.