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Neuroscience Reconstructed: Genetics and Development


About This Course

Modern neuroscience is multidisciplinary and collaborative. We need to integrate knowledge of experimental and theoretical approaches to neuroscience, and look at the brain and brain function from different perspectives: for example, genes can partially explain differences in reading ability, but there is no single gene that makes someone a good or a poor reader. And genes can be turned on and off by external factors such as someone’s diet or a virus infection. So to understand something as complex as reading ability, we need to stitch together knowledge about the role of genes, proteins, cells, and large networks of cells.

In this course on Genetics and Brain Development, we will focus on the principles of neurogenetics and brain development and we will introduce you to the fields of genomics, transcriptomics, epigenomics and their applications.

  • week 1: Basics of gene expression
  • week 2: Genetic variation, gene networks and epigenetic
  • week 3: Genome, epigenome and transcriptome
  • week 4: Overview of embryonic development
  • week 5: The birth of the nervous system
  • week 6: Methods and tools in genetics
  • week 7: Gene therapy in the nervous system
  • week 8: Introduction to big data
  • week 7: Introduction to modelling in neuroscience

Each week will include a video lecture or reading material, practice exercises, online tools to access existing data as well as a reading list if you wish to learn more on the week's subject. The week will be concluded by a graded assignment.

You will learn from top scientists, specialised in each field, and have access to research databases and learning resources such as brain atlases and brain modeling tools. We aim to show you how these new tools can help integrate the vast amounts of neuroscience data available to innovate medical technologies and therapies. And we will teach you how to use these tools for your own research and understanding.


This course is for anyone who has a basic understanding of cell biology and wants to learn about brain function from a broad biological perspective.

Course Staff

Johannes Graff

Johannes Gräff

Johannes Gräff was born and raised in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, in St. Gallen. After high school, he moved across the language boarder to the French-speaking University of Lausanne, where he completed his undergraduate studies. During those, he spent one year at the University of British Columbia (UBC), in Vancouver, Canada, where he started to become interested in neuroscience and psychology. His M.Sc. thesis, conducted with Laurent Keller in 2005, then focused on the genetic causes of aging in ants. Intrigued by how genes can influence behavior – and vice versa – he started a Ph.D. thesis in the lab of Isabelle Mansuy at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETHZ) to specialize on the neuroepigenetic mechanisms that regulate learning and memory. He obtained his Ph.D. in 2009, and stayed on for a short while as a postdoctoral fellow. In 2009, he moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, USA to start his postdoctoral work under the supervision of Li-Huei Tsai. During this time, he could for the first time show that the epigenetic machinery is causally involved in cognitive decline associated with neurodegeneration, as well as with updating long-term traumatic memories in a mouse model of post-traumatic stress disorder. Since 2013, Johannes Gräff is a tenure-track assistant professor at the Brain Mind Institute of the School of Life Sciences, and the Nestle Chair for Neurosciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). He is also a founding member of the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence, a MQ fellow, a NARSAD Independent Investigator and holds an ERC StG.

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Gioele La Manno

Gioele La Manno earned his PhD at Karolinska Instituet and is a proud alumnus of the Linnarsson Lab. His original training is in Biotechnology (BSc @UNIPA) and Biomedicine (MSc @KI) but nowadays he will turn around if somebody is calling out for a Molecular Biologist, Computational Biologist or Bioinformatician. His research focuses on understanding brain development. He is particularly interested in describing the sequence of states that embryonic stem cells go through during their differentiation towards mature neurons. He has been tackling this question using machine learning tools on the wealth of data provided by single cell RNA sequencing, a technique he has been working with and developing since its early times. His long-term goal is to contribute in making biology from a descriptive to a predictive science.

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Liliane Tenenbaum

Liliane Tenenbaum is a Senior Lecturer and Group Leader in the Laboratoire de neurothérapies et neuromodulation at the University of Lausanne. Her research interests are Neuroprotective gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease and sensing and reducing brain inflammatory responses.

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Sean Hill

Sean Lewis Hill is an American neuroscientist, Professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, and inaugural Scientific Director of the Krembil Centre for Neuroinformatics in Toronto, Canada. He is co-Director of the Blue Brain Project at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne located on the Campus Biotech in Geneva, Switzerland. He is known for the development of large-scale computational models of brain circuitry and neuroinformatics.

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