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Animations and Interactions

Interactive activities, animations with audio commentary, and interactive exercises that provide an opputunity to explore key topics and concepts and test your understanding.


Interaction: Labelling the main components of a typical brain neuron

Interaction: Presynaptic terminals of a neuron: Can you spot the mistake?

Interaction: Labelling the Voltage changes and ion movements that accompany an action potential

Interaction: Labelling the midsagital section through the brain

Interaction: Labelling the lateral view of the human brain


Animation: The history of the brain

This animation deals with the historical development of brain research. It begins with what is arguably the earliest theory of brain function, formulated by the physician Galen (AD 130-200), which remained highly influential for over 1500 years. The animation also discusses the work of French philosopher Descartes (1596-1650) and the 18th century physiologist Luigi Galvani, who showed that nervous activity is electrical in nature. The importance of neural staining techniques for understanding the brain in the 19th century, and the discovery of the synapse in 1897 by Charles Sherrington, is also covered. Then we turn to important discoveries in the 20th century, including the discovery of chemical neurotransmission by Otto Loewi in 1921 and the detailed elucidation of the action potential by Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley in 1952.

Animation: The formation and conduction of an action potential

This animation shows how an action potential (nervous impulse) is generated by the nerve cell. A fundamental point to understand is that the voltage inside a nerve cell, when it is at rest, is negative compared to the outside (approximately -70Mv). This is called the resting potential and we see how this is produced by the unequal distribution of ions (atoms that have lost or gained an electron that makes them electrically charged) that occur inside and outside the neuron. Changes in the resting potential cause changes in the permeability of the neuron's membrane to ions (especially sodium and potassium), which enables the nerve cell to generate the electrical current that acts as a neural impulse.

Animation: Exocytosis, neurotransmitter release and breakdown

This animation explains how an action potential is produced at the axon hillock of the neuron, and how this electrical impulse is passed down the axon in the form of "small jumps" from gap to gap in the myelin sheath, called the Node of Ranvier. This process is also crucial to the production of exocytosis, in which synaptic vesicles containing neurotransmitter become fused with the axonal terminals, spilling their contents into the synaptic gap (neurotransmitter release).

Animation: An illustrated guide to the main structures of the brain

This animation provides an illustrated introductory guide to the main structures of the brain. The adult brain contains around 12 billion neurons (and 10 times more glial cells) and these are arranged in distinct structures and pathways. In particular, the animation explains how the oldest part of the brain begins as an extension of the spinal cord (called the brainstem) and extends into the expanding midbrain. Lying just above the midbrain is the thalamus, hypothalamus (which controls the pituitary gland - the master gland of the hormone system) and autonomic nervous system. The rest of the brain is known as the forebrain and is made up of a number of complex structures and pathways, including the basal ganglia (which partially surrounds the thalamus) and the limbic system (which is closely associated with old parts of the cerebral cortex). The most recently developed part of the brain, and which reaches its greatest complexity in humans, is the cerebral cortex. It has a distinctive array of ridges (gyri) and fissures (sulci). The cerebral cortex has four main lobes - the occipital, parietal, temporal and frontal. It is involved in a wide range of higher cognitive functions including thought, language and memory.

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