Blood and Brains: Comparative Physiology of the Neurovasculature

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 19, 2021 - August 11, 20217/19 - 8/113 WeeksOnlineWaitlistedOnlineApril Rodd

Course Description

We hear a lot about how our brains allow us sense the world and think, but have you ever wondered what else is in the brain besides neurons? Our nervous system drives our thoughts and decisions and makes us who we are, but its function is both demanding of energy and less resilient than the rest of our body. Both of these challenges of the nervous system are addressed by a complex network of blood vessels with special properties to support and protect our nervous systems. This class will cover the core functions of both systems, and crucially, how to understand biology and physiology as a network of interacting systems that enable life. Focusing on the connection between the cardiovascular and nervous systems, this course will compare the physiology of species ranging from simple invertebrates to mammals. These creatures use a variety of techniques to achieve this fundamental goal: creating the protected environment of the brain.

Centered around this connection between the cardiovascular and nervous systems, we will cover a diversity of species ranging from worms to octopi to humans, and focus on specific model organisms used to understand human biology.

To have healthy human brains, a complex network of blood vessels with special properties are needed to support and protect this delicate structure. Across the globe, different species have evolved wildly different vascular biology and nervous systems. We will be looking at the nervous system, cardiovascular system, and the way these two physiological systems come together to explore how diverse species of model organisms can help us understand complex biological questions.

This course centers around the structure known as the blood brain barrier, the interface between the brain and the rest of the body. We will go through a basic introduction to neuroscience and cardiovascular biology, then delve deep into the connections between these two physiological systems. Through our discussions, will examine the nervous system and vasculature of different species, then focus on the cell types of the blood brain barrier, how they work together as a neurovascular unit to create this unique and important biological barrier, and what this structure means for human health. Moving through evolutionary connections, we will discuss invertebrates, fish, and mammals to understand how this structure developed and what differences between species can tell us about human biology.

In addition to this broad survey of species, this course will focus on three important model organisms: fruit flies, zebrafish, and rodents. These models will be used as examples discuss the way research scientists use these different types of organism, and use these examples to study genetics, microscopy, and human health.

Using scientific research articles, we will have online discussions about cutting edge science and research techniques used in the field and how that adds to our understanding of biology today. We will also include a set of online lab activities to explore these ideas, including using online resources and collected data. This class will consist of lectures, discussions, activities, and a final project.

By the end of the course, students will:
• Learn how to read, compare and discuss scientific articles
• Be able to describe the basic properties and functions of the cardiovascular and nervous systems
• Know how the cardiovascular and nervous system differs between animal species
• Understand the different model organisms used to study human biology
• Know the cell types and properties of the blood brain barrier, and how this structure evolved into the barrier seen in humans today
• Be able to describe the role of the blood brain barrier in human health
• Understand what is unique about the neurovasculature and blood brain barrier

Prerequisites: Completion of high school biology and chemistry is highly recommended.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEBN0942

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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