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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Deanery of Biomedical Sciences : Biomedical Sciences

Undergraduate Course: Genetic and Environmental Influences on Behaviour and Mental Health (BIME10022)

Course Outline
SchoolDeanery of Biomedical Sciences CollegeCollege of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course will lead you through the different aspects of how genetic and environmental factors can influence behaviour and cognition, and the potential consequences for mental health and susceptibility to psychiatric disease. Importantly, it aims to give students an understanding of how these complex factors can interact with each other to impact the individual.

The information covered may vary but will cover subjects including the biology of stress: the HPA axis, glucocorticoid actions in the CNS, the sympathetic nervous system, serotonergic and noradrenergic neurotransmitter systems. The use of animal models for psychiatric disease will be discussed. The genetics of psychiatric disease and intrauterine programming mechanisms (epigenetics) that affect behavioural development in the offspring will then be introduced. We will examine how the interplay between these systems, genetics and the environment influences susceptibility psychiatric conditions including anxiety and depression, schizophrenia, addiction and Alzheimer's disease. We will also look at how cognition is affected by stress and aging, and how genetics influences this.

There are two teaching sessions each week for 11 weeks, and each lasts for two to two and a half hours. Normally there will be a one-hour lecture or seminar. Some lectures will then be followed by student presentations or devoted to formative feedback. Others will be followed by quizzes or other student-led exercises or scheduled time to work on the group project ICA exercise.

The objectives of student presentations are to give you the opportunity to produce and deliver PowerPoint illustrated short talks on a focused topic related to the lectures, using a published research paper as the source. You will be assigned a paper and organised into pairs or threes to prepare a joint presentation to gain experience of team working. You will be expected to give a brief overview of the research, and then present the manuscript while giving reference to previous published experimental research, and giving a critical account of the work. We hope presentation of papers will stimulate discussion amongst the whole class, and other students in the class are expected to contribute by asking questions of the speakers. The oral presentations will not be formally assessed (though the lecturer/moderator may give feedback.

Each student will be required to hand in a 1000 (maximum) word summary of their critique of their assigned paper presentation in advance of the presentation which will count towards in-course assessment.

Group projects will be the other ICA exercise. You will work together in groups to design and present a research proposal to investigate a project of your choice related to the course material. You will be expected to work partly in assigned class time and partly outwith teaching time, to design the proposal. You will then be required to give a group presentation of your research plan.
Course description Not entered
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2017/18, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  24
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 23, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 10, Supervised Practical/Workshop/Studio Hours 5, Formative Assessment Hours 4, Summative Assessment Hours 2, Revision Session Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 150 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 70 %, Coursework 30 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) In-course assessment: Students will give oral presentations in small groups; e.g. critiques of scientific papers and strategies for addressing research questions. They will be required to submit individual overviews of these presentations for assessment (30%).
Degree examination (70%).
Feedback Feedback will be available throughout the course in several forms:
Verbal feedback from lecturers and peers on your paper critique presentations.
The mid-course feedback session on week 7 will cover the mock examination essay formative feedback exercise and exam techniques.
Feedback on the written ICA paper critique exercise will be provided to all students by 15 days after the last presentation (so available at the start of week 9) in order to avoid disadvantaging those students presenting early in the course.
A revision session has been timetabled for Week 11.
Feedback from the exam will be made available. Please contact the course administrator for more information about how and when this will be done.

Formative Feedback:
An essay question will be made available to the class in Week 1, which you will complete under mock exam conditions in week 5. The essay will be timed for one hour and hand-written to emulate the course examination, but it will be open-book. Formative feedback will be given in the discussion session organised for week 7. You will get individual written feedback on your essay, and the class discussion will cover a model answer and exam technique.
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S1 (December)Genetic and Environmental Influences on Behaviour and Mental Health2:00
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. 1. To gain knowledge and understanding of: the nature, function and control of the stress response (HPA axis, sympathetic nervous system and related neurotransmitter systems) - how exposure to extrinsic environmental factors (e.g. stress in utero, or during early or adult life), and intrinsic environmental factors (e.g. aging), can influence subsequent behavior and susceptibility to psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, addiction and impaired cognition. - how an individual's genetic profile can influence the stress response, behavior and susceptibility to psychiatric disease - the complex manner in which genetic and environmental factors can interact with each other to influence an individual's risk of developing psychiatric disorders, including epigenetic mechanisms - the strengths and limitations of animal models for investigation of behavior and human psychiatric disorders
  2. Demonstrate an ability to communicate knowledge and understanding as defined above through both written work and verbal discussion.
  3. Demonstrate an ability to integrate and critically evaluate information gained from different sources (lectures, paper presentations, class discussions and further research and reading) to construct arguments for individual conclusions and original ideas.
  4. Demonstrate effective team-working to produce presentations and arguments for debate.
Reading List
Stress and the HPA axis:
Jols M & Baram TZ. (2009) The neuro-symphony of stress. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 10, 459466.

Ulrich-Lai YM & Herman JP. (2009) Neural regulation of endocrine and autonomic stress responses. Nature Rev. Neurosci. 10, 397409.

Stress and energy balance:
Yau YH, Potenza MN. (2013) Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva Endocrinol. 38(3):255-67.

Non-genomic effects of Glucocorticoids/Neuropeptides:
Groeneweg FL, Karst H, de Kloet ER, Jols M. (2011) Rapid non-genomic effects of corticosteroids and their role in the central stress response. J Endocrinol. 209, 153-67.

Hill MN & Tasker JG. (2012) Endocannabinoid signaling, glucocorticoid-mediated negative feedback, and regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Neuroscience. 204, 5-16.

Animal Models of Behaviour:
Crawley JN. (2008) Behavioral phenotyping strategies for mutant mice. Neuron 57(6): 809-18

CRF and Ucns:
Fox JH, Lowry CA. (2013) Corticotropin-releasing factor-related peptides, serotonergic systems, and emotional behavior. Front Neurosci. 7:169.

Zorrilla EP, Logrip ML, Koob GF. (2014) Corticotropin releasing factor: a key role in the neurobiology of addiction. Front Neuroendocrinol. 35(2):234-44.

Wimalawansa SJ. (2014) Mechanisms of developing post-traumatic stress disorder: new targets for drug development and other potential interventions. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. 13:807-16

Glucocorticoids and Depression:
Boyle MP, Kolber BJ, Vogt SK, Wozniak DF, Muglia LJ. (2006) Forebrain Glucocorticoid Receptors Modulate Anxiety-Associated Locomotor Activation and Adrenal Responsiveness. The Journal of Neuroscience 26(7):19711978

Harris AP, Holmes MC, de Kloet ER, Chapman KE, Seckl JR. (2013) Mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptor balance in control of HPA axis and behaviour. Psychoneuroendocrinology 38(5):648-58

5-HT and NA:
Olivier B. (2015) Serotonin: a never-ending story. European Journal of Pharmacology 753:2-18

Yamamoto K, Shinba T, Yoshii M. (2014) Psychiatric symptoms of noradrenergic dysfunction: a pathophysiological view. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 68(1):1-20.

Genetics of Common Complex Psychiatric Diseases:
Further reading to be supplied during lecture

Stress and Cognition:
Schwabe L, Wolf OT, Oitzl MS. (2010) Memory formation under stress: quantity and quality. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 34(4): 584-91.

Hyman SE. (2005) Addiction: A Disease of Learning and Memory. 162:1414-22

Genes and Mental Illness:
Schizophrenia Working Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. (2014) Biological insights from 108 schizophrenia-associated genetic loci. Nature 511(7510):421-7. Epub 2014 Jul 22.

Further references at:

DISC1, environment and schizophrenia:
Cash-Padgett T, Jaaro-Peled H. (2013) DISC1 mouse models as a tool to decipher gene-environment interactions in psychiatric disorders. Front Behav Neurosci 7:113. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00113

Epigenetics and Psychiatric Illness:
Tammen, SA et al. (2013) Epigenetics: the link between nature and nurture. Molecular Aspects of Medicine 34, 753-764

Demspter E et al (2013) Epigenetic Studies of Schizophrenia: Progress, Predicaments, and Promises for the Future. Schizophrenia Bulletin 39. 11-16

Oh G et al. (2015) DNA Modification Study of Major Depressive Disorder: Beyond Locus-by-Locus Comparisons. Biological Psychology 77, 246-255

Intrauterine Programming:
Bale TL. (2015) Epigenetic and transgenerational reprogramming of brain development. Nat Rev Neurosci. 16, 332-344.

Bale TL, Baram TZ, Brown AS, Goldstein JM, Insel TR, McCarthy MM, Nemeroff CB, Reyes TM, Simerly RB, Susser ES, Nestler EJ. (2010) Early life programming and neurodevelopmental disorders. Biol Psychiatry. 68, 314-319

Maccari S, Krugers HJ, Morley-Fletcher S, Szyf M, Brunton PJ. (2014) The consequences of early life adversity: neurobiological, behavioural and epigenetic adaptations. J Neuroendocrinol. EPub Jul 15.

Genetics of Cognitive Aging:
Harris SE, Deary IJ. (2011) The genetics of cognitive ability and cognitive ageing in healthy older people. Trends Cogn Sci. 15, 388-394.

Davies G, et al. (2014). A genome-wide association study implicates the APOE locus in nonpathological cognitive ageing. Mol Psychiatry. 19, 76-87.
Alzheimers Disease

Bettens K, Sleegers K, Van Broeckhoven C. (2013) Genetic insights in Alzheimer's disease. Lancet Neurol.12, 92-104.

Karch CM, Cruchaga C, Goate AM. (2014) Alzheimer's Disease Genetics: From the Bench to the Clinic. Neuron. 83,11-26.

Stress and the Aging Brain:
McEwen BS, de Leon MJ, Lupien SJ et al (1999) Corticosteroids, the aging brain and cognition. Trends Endocrin Met 10, 92-96

Sapolsky RM. (1999) Glucocorticoids, stress and their adverse neurological effects: relevance to ageing. Exp. Gerontology 34, 721-732
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills 1. The ability to communicate knowledge and understanding through written work and verbal discussion.

2. The ability to integrate and critically evaluate information gained from different sources including personal research and reading to construct arguments for individual conclusions and to synthesise original ideas.

3. The ability to participate in effective team-working to deliver completed projects.
Course organiserDr Joyce Yau
Tel: (0131 6)51 1032
Course secretaryMiss Alexandra Lowe
Tel: (0131 6)51 1513
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