The Neuroscience Graduate Program is excited to announce Nanocourses: Advanced Topics in Neuroscience (Bio 5989) in Spring 2023!

Nanocourses are interactive 6-week courses (1.5 hours/week) that offer a deep exploration of an advanced topic through primary literature and guided discussions. 

Registration is open to WashU graduate students, post docs, staff, and faculty members. Students ​who wish to take a nanocourse for credit should officially register and are expected to attend and complete assignments for at least 4 of 6 sessions.

Click here to register: WebSTAC/BIOL 5989 Advanced Topics in Neuroscience (WUSTL Key required)

General questions?  Contact Ilya Monosov.

For questions regarding registration contact Sally Vogt.

Spring 2023 Nanocourses

Advanced Topics in Neuroscience (Bio 5989)

Deadline to officially register: January 26, 2023

Advanced scientific computing:
Producing better code

Organizer: Tim Holy
January 23 – March 6
10:30 am – 12:00 pm

More information can be found in the course details below.

  • January 23: Introduction, Git & GitHub
  • January 30: Introduction to Julia
  • February 13: Testing & principles of design 
  • February 20: Continuous integration, documentation, package versioning, and releases 
  • February 27: High performance computing on your laptop I
  • March 6: High performance computing on your laptop II
Course details

Many scientists are self-taught coders and struggle to learn the skills that best support collaboration, rigor and reproducibility, good design, extensibility, and wide community adoption.  Like so many other aspects of being a scientist, these are all skills that can be taught and learned via practice. 

This nanocourse focuses primarily on tools and habits that make it easier to succeed in writing robust, flexible, and widely-adopted code.  Process-oriented topics include Git and GitHub, test-driven development, the workflow of continuous integration, and documentation and software releases.  More conceptual topics include principles of good design and the mechanisms for writing high-performance code.  Students will be introduced to all these issues via the Julia programming language, although some lessons will apply broadly. 

This course is aimed at people who are comfortable in at least one programming language; it is not suitable for programming beginners.  Participants should plan to allocate several hours each week for homework assignments. 

# Syllabus 

  1. Introduction to the course and Git and GitHub
  2.  Introduction to Julia
  3. Testing & principles of design 
  4. Continuous integration, documentation, package versioning, and releases 
  5. High performance computing on your laptop I: understanding and measuring performance 
  6. High performance computing on your laptop II: algorithms, compilers, and inference 

Introduction to Computational Neuroscience

Organizers: ShiNung Ching, Gaia Tavoni, Ilya Monosov
Wednesdays and Fridays
February 1 – 17
4-5:00 pm and 11-12:00 pm

More information can be found in the course details below.

  • February 1: Normative approaches in neuroscience (Ching)
  • February 3: A pico-primer in stochastic control (Ching)
  • February 8: Modeling neural networks (Tavoni)
  • February 10: Coding and information processing in neural networks (Tavoni)
  • February 17: Applications in psychiatry (Monosov)
Course details
  • Normative approaches in neuroscience (Ching): Optimization-based frameworks for synthesizing and analyzing neural dynamics, including emerging connections with neural networks and machine learning. 
  • A pico-primer in stochastic control (Ching): Overview of basic concepts in Bellman dynamic programming, optimal decision policies for bandit problems, and model-based versus model-free control paradigms. 
  • Modeling neural networks (Tavoni): An introduction to different types of neural network models, including probabilistic graphical models to reconstruct and predict the statistics of neural activity patterns, and models of spiking neurons to simulate dynamical properties. 
  • Coding and information processing in neural networks (Tavoni): An introduction to information theory and the insights it brings to the problem of how information is encoded and transmitted in sensory systems. 
  • Applications in psychiatry (Monosov): Computational neuroscience has become an important tool in the clinic. This will be discussed in this concluding lecture. 

Antidepressant Mechanisms

Organizer: Joshua Siegel
February 3 – March 10
1 – 2:00 pm

More information can be found in the course details below.

  • February 3 (Siegel): The Neurotrophic Hypothesis
  • February 10 (Subramanian): Ketamine
  • February 17 (Subramanian): Psychedelics
  • February 24 (Siegel): Human Neuroimaging Studies
  • March 3 (Mennerick): Neurosteroids
  • March 10 (Feng): Model organisms
Course details

Each class will be able 30 minutes of lecture followed by 30 minutes of discussion.

February 3: The Neurotrophic Hypothesis (Siegel)

  • A number of signal transduction pathways that center around BDNF and its receptor TrkB result in increased neuroplasticity (neurogenesis, neuritogensis, synaptogenesis). These pathways are suppressed in stress and are restored in antidepressant treatment. Blocking these pathways prevent antidepressants from working. Recent events suggest antidepressant drugs act directly on the TrkB receptor (Casarotto 2021). Recent human studies with SV2A suggest a means of measuring deficit in synapse formation in depression (Holmes 2019).   

February 10: Rapid Antidepressants: Ketamine + NMDA Antagonist anesthetics (Subramanian)

  • Data began to emerge 20 years ago showing antidepressant benefits of ketamine, many speculated that the biological underpinnings of the dissociative experience were essential to the therapeutic mechanism. Over the next two decades, animal research discovered that sub-anesthetic ketamine induces rapid activation of the neurotrophic cascade and that this phenomenon was necessary and sufficient to produce antidepressant effects (Autry 2011, Adachi 2008, nosyrova 2013, duman). Human research suggest that cognitive and psychiatric benefits of ketamine could be seen under treatment conditions that obviated the subjective experience (Mortero et al., 2001; others). Yet, efforts to identify/test NMDA Antagonist antidepressants without dissociative properties have not been successful (e.g. Lanicemine)

February 17: Rapid Antidepressants: Psychedelics (Subramanian)

  • “Classic psychedelics” are a class of compounds that producing unique acute effects on cognition and perception via 5-HT2A agonism. Under the right circumstances, these drugs can occasion a mystical experience with a fairly high reliability. But it is not the acute perceptual effect but rather the persisting effects that has gained substantial attention in recent years. After a long ‘sleep’, interest and ability to research these drugs for medical purposes has re-awakened. Recent clinical trials have shown impressive results. Laboratory research has shown that a single dose of a psychedelic drug can produce powerful stimulation of neurotrophic cascade that persists beyond that of ketamine.
    The link between the acute experience, neurotrophic stimulation, and the clinical benefits remains unclear. Can we design rapid antidepressants without acute hallucinogenic effects (Hesselgrave 2021, Cameron 2020)?

February 24: Neuroimaging Studies of the Neurotrophic Cascade (Siegel)

  • Human imaging approaches such as PET, MEG, EEG, fMRI are uniquely able answer important questions about acute and persisting effects of psychoplastogens. Human imaging studies of psychedelics have begun to explore how acute changes in brain circuitry might explain persisting clinical effects. Studies have reported a variety of acute changes in metabolic activity, brain blood flow, and electrical activity (Carhart-Harris et al., 2012; Robin L. Carhart-Harris et al., 2016; Tagliazucchi et al., 2016, 2014; Vollenweider et al., 1997). However, the complexity of drug effects on so many aspects of neurobiology also represent a mine field of confounds (e.g. neurovasculature, arousal, movement, attention) for human imaging research.  

March 3: Neurosteroids (Mennerick)

  • Among the more exciting developments in neuropsychiatry in the last 5 years has been the FDA approval of brexanolone (allopregnanolone) for the treatment of postpartum depression.  Neurosteroids most famously interact with GABAA receptors as positive allosteric modulators. This is a different mechanism of action than either classical antidepressants, ketamine, or psychedelics.  At what point (if any) do the mechanisms of antidepressants converge?  
  • Paper 1: PMID: 31649968 
  • Paper 2: 

March 10: Model organisms (Feng)

Maladaptive decision making: Circuits and mechanisms

Organizers: Ilya Monosov and guests
Select Mondays and Fridays
March 6 – 24
9 – 10:00 am

More information can be found in the course details below.

  • March 6Addiction
  • March 10OCD
  • March 13Risky decision making
  • March 20Information seeking – the good and the bad
  • March 24Computational psychiatry
Course details

Behavioral and neural differences across individuals measured during value-based decision-making tasks could be key for advancing computational-psychiatry and cognitive-neuroscience towards uncovering circuit-level mechanisms of behavior and designing novel modulation methods for the clinic. That is discovering the precise underlying behavioral underpinnings or features of psychiatric disorders will facilitate more precise identification of the neuronal mechanisms that underlie them. We will discuss the neural and behavioral underpinnings of maladaptive decision making and newly emerging approaches to biasing maladaptive behavior towards more adaptive strategies.  

Glia: Neuroscience without Neurons

Organizers: Thomas Papouin, Erik Musiek
Select Mondays and Fridays
March 31 – April 14
10:30am – 12:00pm

More information can be found in the course details below.

  • March 31 (Jason Ulrich): Glial Genetics in Health and Disease
  • April 3 (Thomas Papouin):  Astrocytes Excitability: calcium-based input-output processing
  • April 7 (Thomas Papouin):  Astrocyte-to-Neuron Signaling: Gliotransmission and Astrocyte-based Neuromodulation 
  • April 10 (Robyn Klein):  Glia in Neuroinfectious Disease 
  • April 14 (Erik Musiek):  Glia in Neurodegeneration
Course details

What’s really in our brains? Introduction to glial biology in health and disease. 

This course will focus on trending areas of research in the field of astrocyte biology. Through introductory lectures, reading and discussing primary literature, students will debate emerging concepts involving the role of glia in brain development and function, brain health, and brain disorders, including neurodegenerative and neuroinfectious diseases. Class sessions will include discussions guided by experts currently engaged in the field in order to provide students with a source of knowledge and perspective on the subject. Through attending the course, students will gain a broader appreciation for the importance and roles of astrocytes and find ways to apply this new knowledge to their own research. 

Learning objectives 

  • Participants will learn about the role of astrocytes in health, and disease. 
  • Participants will become more familiar with the most abundant cell-type in the brain and how their functions change under various contexts. 
  • Participants will connect with experts and other learners interested in research on glia. 
  • Participants will critically evaluate historical perspectives and emerging trends in glia research. 


Students will come to each session having read one review and/or a couple of primary research articles to discuss during class.  


Owing to the number of lecturers involved, this Nanocourse is contingent on adequate enrollment. 


  • Friday, March 31 (Jason Ulrich): Glial Genetics in Health and Disease 
  • Monday, April 3 (Thomas Papouin):  Astrocytes Excitability: calcium-based input-output processing  
  • Friday, April 7 (Thomas Papouin):  Astrocyte-to-Neuron Signaling: Gliotransmission and Astrocyte-based Neuromodulation 
  • Monday, April 10 (Robyn Klein):  Glia in Neuroinfectious Disease 
  • Friday, April 14 (Erik Musiek):  Glia in Neurodegeneration