Neurotechnology Center at Columbia University


W4011:  "Circuits in the Brain", Fall 2017.


Meeting times: Fridays 9am-11am. Room 909 North West Corner Building


Instructor: Rafael Yuste, Professor, Dept. Biological Sciences, 906 NWC, [email protected], Phone: 854-2354


Office Hours: By arrangement


Credits: 3



Required: Principles of Neural Design (by Peter Sterling & Simon Laughlin

The MIT Press (May 22, 2015) ISBN-10: 0262028700, ISBN-13: 978-0262028707

Available in BookCulture, the Columbia Bookstore and in the Science Library Reserve section. Also readable in and in


Also: Articles chosen from the relevant literature.



            This course is an advanced seminar that will review current knowledge about the computations carried out by neural circuits. This year the seminar will focus on discussing the engineering login behind nervous systems, using Sterling and Laughlin’s book as our text. We will review behavioral and computational studies and connecting that information with relevant knowledge in neural circuits.

            The class will run as a seminar discussion, where it is assumed that every student will have studied the reading material ahead of time and will be knowledgeable enough to explain it.


Targeted audience: W3004 and W3005, or similar courses, are ideal background for the course. To maintain a small class size and ensure the participation of all students in all the discussions, only 17 students will be admitted. Graduate students are welcome but undergraduate students in their final year majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior will have preference. Auditors will not be accepted.


Instructor permission is necessary for registration.


Grading: An short (maximum 5 page) essay on any of the topics discussed in the course is due on Friday December 8th and will be used for the final grade, together with evaluation of class participation.




September 8th: Ch. 1 What Engineers Know about Design (pp. 1-10) and 2 Why an Animal Needs a Brain (pp. 11-40)


September 15th: Ch. 3 Why a Bigger Brain? (pp. 41-56) and Ch. 4 How Bigger Brains Are Organized (pp. 57-104)


September 22nd: Ch. 5 Information Processing: From Molecules to Molecular Circuits (pp. 105-124)


September 29th: Ch. 6 Information Processing in Protein Circuits (pp. 125-154)


October 6th: Ch. 7 Design of Neurons (pp. 155-194)


October 13th: Ch. 8 How Photoreceptors Optimize the Capture of Visual Information (pp. 195-234)


October 20th: Ch. 9 The Fly Lamina: An Efficient Interface for High-Speed Vision (pp. 235-264)


October 27h: Ch. 10 Design of Neural Circuits: Recoding Analogue Signals to Pulsatile (pp. 265-276)


November 3rd: Ch. 11 Principles of Retinal Design (pp. 277-322)


November 10th: Ch. 12 Beyond the Retina: Pathways to Perception and Action (pp. 323-362)


November 17th: Ch. 13 Principles of Efficient Wiring (pp. 363-398)


December 1st: Ch. 14 Learning as Design/Design of Learning (pp. 399-432).


December 8th: Ch. 15 Summary and Conclusions (pp. 433-444)