What is 'Neurobiology'?

Like no other biological research area, neurobiology is concerned with the specific life experiences of the human being. The following exciting questions form the background for most of the basic neurobiological research approaches:

  • How do we perceive our environment?
  • How do we remember past experiences?
  • How do we think? What are feelings?
  • How does the brain analyse its own function?
  • What are the causes of creativity, musicality and aptitude?
  • What is sleep?
  • How can the nervous system become ill?

Each research group chooses its own focal points in specific research areas. For easier understanding, these areas can be roughly divided as follows:

1. Nerve cells: Many teams work on the investigation of neurons' development and function. Here one examines the regulation of the neuronal gene expression, the cellular transport processes of neurons, the electrical signal transmission and molecular mechanisms of the signal transfer at synapses. The molecular biological, biochemical and electrophysiological methods used, are here as important as electron microscopy and other optical methods.

2. Neuronal Networks: Neurons are always connected to other neurons – with the help of their dendrite arborisation they form complicated connections with many other neurons: the so called neuronal networks. It is fairly easy for the neurobiologist to understand how such a network functions, if it consists of just 3-4 neurons. Yet, if 10, 100 or even 1000 neurons are connected to one another it is very difficult to examine the function of the network. Anatomy is the basis of this research because with it one can demonstrate what is linked to what in the nervous system. However, the research area "Neuronal networks" includes the entire repertoire of modern biological techniques and this area has important intersections with medicine, information technology and mathematics.

3. Perception: The activity of neuronal networks highlights those capacities that were mentioned in the above list of questions. How does something like remembering a melody develop out of a network of firing neurons? Such questions seemed unanswerable until recently. Now there are exciting and promising developments happening in the research of perception, memory and other cognitive processes. In future neuroscience will concern itself mainly with the better understanding of the connections between the levels of neurons and neuronal networks on the one hand and the thinking and feeling brain on the other. With this, neurobiologists, psychologists and philosophers will work together on the possibly most ambitious project in the history of science.

Brief Neurobiological Glossary

  • Action potential: stereotypical progression of depolarisation of neuronal plasma membrane (amplitude: approx. 100 mV, duration: approx. 1ms) which serves as the element of electrical communication between neurons.
  • Axon: thin plasma membrane tube for the transmission of action potentials. In electrically isolated (myelinated) axons, action potentials are conducted from the cell body towards the synapse at the speed of up to 100 m/s.
  • Dendrite: simple or complex arborising system of appendages, with which the neuron collects synaptic inputs.
  • Electrophysiology: experimental physiological method used for measurement of bioelectrical phenomena of nerve cells, including action potentials, resting and receptor potential, post-synaptic potentials as well as the examination of electrogenic processes (ion channels, ion pumps and electrostatic phenomena).
  • Developmental Neurobiology: science of the formation of the nervous system in a developing embryo.
  • Nervous System: entirety of neuronal tissue in an organism. The diversity of structural designs of different nervous systems demonstrates structural similarities that point to a shared origin.
  • Neuralgia: Pain that is caused by damage to a nerve.
  • Neurite: appendage of a neuron, generally synonymous with axon (and dendrite).
  • Neuroanatomy: science of the structure of nervous systems.
  • Neurobiology: umbrella term for neuroscientific disciplines that are concerned with human and animal nervous systems.
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases: diseases that are caused by progressive degeneration of neurons (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, Creutzfeld Jacob disease, etc.).
  • Neural Network: a network of inter-connected neurons that perform the entire data processing of the nervous system.
  • Neuropathy: nerve disease.
  • Neurophysiology: sub-study of neurobiology that is concerned with the function of neurons and the neural networks in a healthy body.
  • Neurotoxin: toxic substances that primarily damage the nervous system. Neurotoxins are important tools in the investigation of the nervous system.
  • Neurotransmitters: transfer agents that send neural signals over the synaptic gap (acetylcholine, glutamate, glycine, GABA, and others). The investigation of neurotransmitter mechanisms and receptors is also an important focal point of pharmaceutical research.
  • Neurosciences: umbrella term for scientific disciplines that are concerned with the nervous system: neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, developmental neurobiology, neurochemistry, neuropharmacology, neuropathology, neurology, pain research, neuro-information technology, and many others.
  • Perception: mental processes that are activated by the intake of information through the senses. Perception is a more complex process than feeling, insofar as feeling belongs to the interpretation and assessment of perception.
  • Sensory physiology: investigation of structure, function and activity of the senses.
  • Synapse: contact points between nerve cells with specialised structures for the neuro transmission of presynaptic to the postsynaptic membrane.
  • Ultra structure: structures in the cell (for example, organelle, cytoskeleton, transport vesicles etc).
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Latest Revision: 2021-10-21
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