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Contemporary Issues in Neuroscience

Professor Joe Herbert

The brain is the last frontier of human biology. The functioning of the brain makes us what we are. The brain enables us to survive as an individual and as a species, to react to the changing environment, to store and retrieve information from the past and make decisions accordingly. Such complex machinery could only work properly if it is very plastic and is able to change and repair itself. This course will cover four major issues that are currently in the forefront of brain research. We will discuss the neurobiology of key human drives, such as eating, drinking and having sex, and the ways the brain deals with stress from the environment throughout our life. Later lectures will focus on memory, attention and higher cognitive functions.

The course consists of four modules divided into 12 lectures and 8 seminars linked to the lectures. The four modules are:

  • Keeping you and your species alive: how the brain protects you from danger, ensures that you eat properly, drink when you need to, and reproduce
  • How does stress affect our brain?
  • The neuroscience of learning and memory
  • Attention and higher cognitive functions

Intended Audience

This course is aimed at students of biology or psychology, neuroscience majors and students considering medical school or graduate programmes in neuroscience.

Previous Knowledge

Students are required to have some background in neuroscience as the level of the course is roughly similar to the Cambridge Part II courses, with some appropriate introductory materials included.


Professor Joe Herbert

Professor Herbert is interested in the role of the brain in adaptive responses, with particular reference to the reciprocal interaction between hormones and the brain. His experimental work is focussed on the way that neural factors, such as serotonin and glucocorticoids, regulate the formation of new neurons in the adult hippocampus, and the role these play in responses to stress. He has a large parallel clinical programme focussed on determining the risk factors (genetic, environmental, psychosocial and endocrine) that predispose to depression, in collaboration with Professor Goodyer (Psychiatry). He also works on the role of hormones in financial decision-making and risk perception.