Sensory Systems

Course Aim

The course is structured for students who would like to know about sensory systems in the brain at an advanced level. The overall aim is expose students to research-level materials, but starting from basic concepts. Topics will include specialisations as well as common principles found in the mechanisms of sensory perception, and will cover the somatosensory, visual, auditory, olfactory systems from transduction to higher cognitive functions. In parallel, the course aims to develop students’ ability to read and discuss primary research articles, to give students an exposure to some of the latest techniques and developments.

Course Description

The course will cover general concepts and specific sensory modalities. Classes alternate between a lecture-style teaching and a journal club. Each lecture will be based on a textbook chapter (Kandel et al.’s Principles of Neural Sciences, in combination with other, specialised books described in the “Textbooks” section) to cover basic and broad topics, but will also serve as an opportunity to introduce concepts required to understand the research article associated with the lecture.

Course Contents

1 (wk1) Overview lecture/intro Motivation; Modality, basic organisation: transduction, pathways, maps, integration, perception
2 (wk1) Sensory coding lecture/intro Relationship between a physical stimulus and sensation; intensity, threshold, adaptation, effect of background, discriminability
3 (wk2) Somatosensory system I lecture/intro Transduction (general mechano sensing), texture representation.
4(wk2) Somatosensory system I Journal club Active spatial perception in the vibrissa scanning sensorimotor system by Mehta, Whitmer, Figueroa, Williams & Kleinfeld 2007
5(wk3) Somatosensory system II lecture/intro Somatosensory maps, higher processing.
6(wk3) Somatosensory system II Journal club Sparse optical microstimulation in barrel cortex drives learned behaviourl in freely moving mice. Huber et al., 2008.
7(wk4) Hearing I lecture/intro Ear, sound transduction, tonotopy, phase locking and sound localization.
8(wk4) Hearing I Journal club A circuit for detection of interaural time differences in the brain stem of the barn owl. Carr and Konishi, 1990
9(wk5) Hearing II lecture/intro Adaptation, demixing, higher processing (language)
10(wk5) Hearing II Journal club Selective cortical representation of attended speaker in multi-talker speech perception. Mesgarani & Chang. 2012
11(wk6) Vision I lecture/intro Light transduction, eye, retinotopy, filtering in the retina
12(wk6) Vision I Journal club Wiring specificity in the direction-selectivity circuit of the retina by Briggman, Helmstaedter & Denk, 2011
13(wk7) Vision II lecture/intro
14(wk7) Vision II Journal club Explicit information for category-orthogonal object properties increases along the ventral stream by Hong, Yamins, Majaj & DiCarlo 2016
15(wk8) Chemical Senses I lecture/intro Olfactory stimuli and receptors, glomerular maps, combinatorial code.
16(wk8) Chemical Senses I Journal club A novel multigene family may encode odorant receptors: A molecular basis for odor recognition. Buck and Axel. 1991
17(wk9) Chemical Senses II lecture/intro Higher olfactory processing – processing in the olfactory bulb and cortical areas.
18(wk9) Chemical Senses II Journal club Random convergence of olfactory inputs in the Drosophila mushroom body by Caron, Ruta, Abbott & Axel, 2013
19(wk10) Chemical Senses III lecture/intro Gustation – taste receptors, pathways.
20(wk10) Chemical Senses III Journal club Candidate Taste Receptors in Drosophila by Clybe, Warr and Carlson, 2000.


Careful reading of the research article set for each journal club; Each student is asked to write a 1-page summary of the paper in their own words (Homework: 70%). The summary should include the context/rationale for the experiments, methods, results and the significance of the work. The summary will be assessed on clarity, balance, and whether or not student has understood the work. Class participation, 30%.

Prerequisites or Prior Knowledge

The course is aimed at students with a background in neuroscience (either at the BSc/MSc level or having successfully completed some of the basic neuroscience course offered at OIST). It assumes knowledge in cellular neurophysiology and neuroanatomy. Most


1. Principles of Neural Science (MIT Press) by Kandel, Schwartz, Jessell, Siegelbaum, Hudspeth
2. Auditory Neuroscience (MIT Press) by Schnupp, Nelken and King
3. Principles of Neural Design (MIT Press) by Peter Sterling and Simon Laughlin

Reference Books

1. Vision by David Marr

Research Specialties