Blood and Brains: Comparative Physiology of the Neurovasculature

Course Description

We hear a lot about how our brains allow us to think and sense the world, but have you ever wondered what keeps the brain going? Our nervous system drives our thoughts and decisions and makes us who we are, but it needs a lot of energy and a lot of protection. To have healthy human brains, a complex network of blood vessels with special properties are needed to support and protect this delicate structure. 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 examine the nervous system and vasculature of different animals, then focus on cell types within the blood brain barrier. We will study 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 how differences between species can teach us about human biology.

We’ll also explore the core functions of the neurovascular system, how this network of interacting systems keeps the brain going, and what we can learn from the neurovascular system of other animals. Focusing on the connection between the cardiovascular and nervous systems, we will compare the physiology of species ranging from simple invertebrates to mammals.

In addition to studying the neurovasculature in species ranging from worms to octopi to humans, we will focus on three model organisms that are essential to modern neurovascular research: fruit flies, zebrafish, and rodents. These models will be used as examples to discuss the ways in which research scientists study genetics, microscopy, and human health.

By the end of the course, you will:
• Be exposed to current scientific thinking and methods in neurovascular research
• Understand how the cardiovascular and nervous systems in different animal species can be used to study human biology
• Know the cell types and properties of the blood brain barrier, and how this structure is involved in human health
• Have the skills to understand scientific research and methods as well as communicate them to different audiences

This class will combine virtual labs, scientific literature, lectures, and optional live sessions on specific case studies and research topics. By studying the physiology of diverse species, we will learn more about how these structures evolved, what purpose these non-neuronal structures have in the brain, and how they come together to form the blood brain barrier in vertebrates. Along this journey through the neurovasculature, you’ll learn about the fascinating differences in animals, how scientists experimentally study these physiological systems, and how to bring that information together to improve human health.


Completion of high school biology and chemistry is recommended.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: July 18, 2022 - August 05, 2022
Duration: 3 Weeks
Meeting Times: Online - Mostly Asynchronous
Status: Closed
Format: Online
Instructor(s): April Rodd
Course Number: 10237