The Neuroscience Graduate Program is excited to announce Nanocourses: Advanced Topics in Neuroscience (Bio 5989) in 2022/2023!

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.

Fall 2022 Nanocourses

Advanced Topics in Neuroscience (Bio 5989)

Deadline to officially register: September 8, 2022


Organizers: Judith Golden, Meaghan Creed, Victoria Brings
September 7 – October 12
1 – 2:30 pm
Location: Farrell LTC 205 (Medical Campus)

More information can be found in the course details below.

  • September 7: Human Pain
  • September 14: History of Pain Research
  • September 21: Anatomy
  • September 28: Physiology
  • October 5: Injury
  • October 12: Pain research methods
Course details

The perception of pain serves the vital function of providing information about potential or actual injury. The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) defines pain as “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.” Because pain is inherently aversive, it serves the function of limiting tissue damage when a noxious stimulus is encountered. In contrast, a number of chronic pain conditions involve pain which persists in the absence of injury.  

It has been estimated that 100 million adults suffer from chronic pain in the United States, accounting for an expenditure of approximately 600 billion dollars in pain related patient care. Current pharmacological treatments for pain management are sub-optimal, and significant adverse effects limit their use. Consequently, there is significant motivation to develop new approaches to treat pain.  

The objective of this Nano Course is to provide an understanding of the nervous system pathways that transmit and modulate pain and of the methodology used to study pain in rodents and humans. The course content is geared to graduate level neuroscience students. The course will cover the anatomy of peripheral and central pain pathways and the physiology of pain transmission, transduction and modulation. In addition, we will discuss human pain conditions and evaluation of pain in human subjects. Experimental approaches used to evaluate pain in rodents will also be discussed. We will include discussion of relevant literature (recent and classic papers). 

Session 1 Human Pain  

  • Prevalent conditions  
  • Treatment  
  • Evaluation of pain in human subjects  

Session 2 History of Pain Research (Judy Golden)  

  • Anatomy (Judy Golden)  
  • Primary sensory neurons, Nociceptor diversity  
  • Spinal cord  
  • Pain Pathways  

Session 3 Anatomy  

  • Supraspinal centers (Vicki Brings)  
  • Modulation of Pain  
  • Descending pathways (Vicki Brings)  
  • Affective Co-morbidities (Meaghan Creed)  
  • Abuse/Reward  
  • Depression/Anxiety  

Session 4 Physiology (Meaghan Creed)  

  • Primary sensory neurons, Nociceptors  
  • Spinal cord  
  • Supraspinal centers  

Session 5 Injury  

  • Peripheral Sensitization (Vicki Brings)  
  • Central Sensitization (Meaghan Creed)  
  • Theories of Pain (Judy Golden)  

Session 6 Pain research methods (Meaghan Creed, Judy Golden, Vicki Brings)  

  • Behavior  
  • In vitro and in vivo physiology 

A Distinctly WashU Perspective on Neuroimaging

Organizers: Steven Petersen,
Benjamin Seitzman
September 27-November 1
10-11:30 am
Location: NIL large conference room 2311 (2nd fl, East Bldg; Medical Campus)

All attendees will be expected to read the paper(s) for each week and participate in subsequent in-class discussions. More information can be found in the course details below.

  • September 27: Imaging Brain Function
  • October 4: Imaging Brain Organization
  • October 11: Clinical Imaging (special emphasis on PET)
  • October 18: The Rise of Imaging Consortia: Large N Studies
  • October 25: Highly-Sampled Individuals: Small N Studies
  • November 1: Recent Studies That Rock
Course details

The goal of the neuroimaging nanocourse is to provide attendees with a broad overview of neuroimaging research, most of which seeks insight into human brain function and behavior, in both health and disease, from the “WashU” perspective. This nanocourse will survey various neuroimaging research topics, study designs, and techniques. No a priori knowledge of neuroimaging techniques, physics, etc. is required. However, attendees are expected to have at least an introductory knowledge of systems-level neuroscience and/or cognitive neuroscience (e.g., have taken any one of Principles of the Nervous System, Cognitive Neuroscience, Neural Systems, Neural Sciences for Medical Students, or equivalent courses). If you are unsure if you are qualified to take the course, please email for more information.  

All attendees will be expected to read the paper(s) for each week and participate in subsequent in-class discussions. 

Assignments and Attendance 

Students taking the course for credit will be required to submit brief summaries of the discussion paper(s) before each session. Those auditing the course are not required to do so. Furthermore, students taking the course for credit are required to attend 5 of the 6 sessions.  

9/27 Week 1 – Imaging Brain Function 

Topic: The value and attributes of well-designed task fMRI studies

10/04 Week 2 – Imaging Brain Organization 

Topic: The value of taking a closer look at what was originally thought to be background noise, a.k.a. resting state “functional connectivity” 

10/11 Week 3 – Clinical Imaging (special emphasis on PET) 

Topic: The value and/or potential of neuroimaging in clinical settings

  • Discussion Paper: TBA from Brian Gordon (guest lecturer) about PET biomarkers for Alzheimer’s Disease 

10/18 Week 4 – The Rise of Imaging Consortia: Large N Studies 

Topic: The value and challenges that come with running large N, multi-site imaging studies

10/25  Week 5 – Highly-Sampled Individuals: Small N Studies 

Topic: The value of case studies and small, unique cohorts with lots of data

11/1 Week 6 – Recent Studies That Rock 

Topic: The importance of basic science in neuroimaging

Spring 2023 Nanocourses

Advanced Topics in Neuroscience (Bio 5989)

Deadline to officially register: TBA

Advanced scientific computing:
Producing better code

Organizer: Tim Holy
January 23 – March 6
10 – 11:30 am

More information can be found in the course details below.

  • January 23: Introduction
  • January 30: Git and GitHub 
  • February 6: Testing & principles of design 
  • February 13: 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: “why Julia?” and a brief tour 

2. Git and GitHub 

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 Wednesdays
March 31 – April 14
10-11:30 am

More information can be found in the course details below.

  • March 31 (Jason Ulrich):  Glial Genetics in Health and Disease
  • April 5 (Thomas Papouin):  Astrocytes Excitability: calcium-based input-output processing
  • April 7 (Thomas Papouin):  Astrocyte-to-Neuron Signaling: Gliotransmission and Astrocyte-based Neuromodulation 
  • April 12 (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. 


  • Wednesday, March 31st (Jason Ulrich): Glial Genetics in Health and Disease 
  • Monday, April 5th (Thomas Papouin): Astrocytes Excitability: calcium-based input-output processing  
  • Wednesday, April 7th (Thomas Papouin): Astrocyte-to-Neuron Signaling: Gliotransmission and Astrocyte-based Neuromodulation 
  • Monday, April 12th (Robyn Klein): Glia in Neuroinfectious Disease 
  • Wednesday, April 14th (Erik Musiek): Glia in Neurodegeneration