87643 - Neurophysiology and Physiology of the Endocrine System

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Good health and well-being Quality education

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student: - knows the general physiological processes and functional mechanisms of excitable cells; - knows the physiological bases of the contractility of muscle tissues and the main functional characteristics of skeletal muscles and the modulation of force and is able to use this knowledge for the purposes of training methods and motor activity programs; - knows the principles of sensory-motor and visceral integration of the human body, with particular regard to neuromotor control and is able to use this knowledge for the purposes of human movement methodologies and physical exercise programs; - knows the neurophysiological basis of higher integrative nervous functions, such as alertness, attention, memory, learning and language; - knows the principles of endocrinology.

Course contents

Cellular physiology

Diffusion and transport across the plasma membrane

Composition of intracellular and extracellular compartments. Homeostasis. Functional features of the plasma membrane. Mechanisms of diffusion and transport across the plasma membrane. Osmosis. Plasma membrane ion channels. Membrane receptors.

Ionic equilibria and membrane potentials

Ion fluxes and equilibria, electrochemical equilibrium potential, Nernst equation. Physico-chemical basis of the resting membrane potential, Goldman equation, role of the sodium-potassium pump. Graduated potentials. Pacemaker activity. Action potential: genesis, ion fluxes of depolarization and repolarization; propagation in myelinated and unmyelinated fibers.

Synaptic transmission

Chemical and electrical synapses. Presynaptic and postsynaptic mechanisms of chemical transmission. Postsynaptic excitatory and inhibitory potentials. Neurotransmitters: synthesis, release, interaction with membrane receptors, inactivation.

Skeletal muscle cell

Structure of the skeletal muscle cell. Transmission of the action potential in the neuromuscular synapseExcitation-contraction coupling. Molecular mechanism of contraction. Isotonic and isometric contraction. Graduation of strength in the muscle contraction. Skeletal muscle cell metabolism. Functional characteristics of oxidative and glycolytic skeletal muscle cells. Motor units. Muscular hypotrophy and hypertrophy. Effects of physical training.

Smooth muscle cell

Structure of the smooth muscle cell. Single-unit and multi-unit smooth muscles. Molecular mechanisms and control of contraction. Pacemaker activity and neural, hormonal, mechanical and chemical modulation of single-unit smooth muscles contraction.


Functional organization of the nervous system

Principal functional elements of the nervous system. Classification of neurons, nerve fibers and glial cells. Functional organization of the central and peripheral nervous system. Support and protection of the brain. Blood-brain barrier and blood-liquor barrier. Somatic and visceral sensory-motor integration.


Sensory systems

General principles of sensory physiology. Sensations and perceptions. Functional organization of sensory systems. Structure, function and classification of sensory receptors. Coding of sensory stimuli: mechanisms of receptor transduction, coding of stimulus type, intensity, duration and localization. Tonic and phasic receptors. Projection pathways from sensory receptors to the cerebral cortex.

Somatosensory system

Tactile sensitivity: tactile receptors, surface touch, tactile acuity, pressure, itching, tickling, bending of hair, vibration and stretching. Proprioception. Thermoception. Introception. Cortical processing of somatosensory inputs. Cranial and spinal somatosensory ascending pathways, primary somatosensory cortex, somatotopic representation of the body surface. Pain: nociceptors, transduction of pain stimuli, referred pain, endogenous modulation of pain.

Auditory system

Principles of acoustics, functional anatomy of the ear, functions of the outer, middle and inner ear; coding of frequency and amplitude of sound waves, localization of the sound source, relationship between hearing threshold and frequency of sounds, central auditory processes.

Vestibular system

Structure and physiological functions of the otolithic organs, utricle and saccule, and the semicircular canals; static and dynamic detection, central vestibular pathways, vestibular reflexes.

Visual system

Principles of optics, functional anatomy of the eye, optical properties of the eye, accommodation reflex, pupillary reflex, alterations of the optical media. Photoreceptors, visual pigments, phototransduction, visual acuity, retinal sensitivity, adaptation to dark and light, neural networks and central processing of visual signals, eye movements.

Olfactory system

Olfactory epithelium, olfactory neurons, transduction of odorous signals, central olfactory pathways.

Taste system

Taste buds, gustatory buttons, transduction of taste signals, primary taste modalities, central taste pathways.


Somatic motor nervous system

Functional organization of the somatic motor nervous system. Mechanisms of modulation of muscular strength.

Reflex movements

Reflex arcs. Spinal reflexes: stretch reflex, tendon reflex, flexor reflex, crossed extensor reflex. Central control of reflex responses.

Postural control and locomotion

Postural control: maintaining the upright posture with respect to gravity, postural adjustments that anticipate imbalances caused by voluntary movements, adaptation to environmental conditions; nervous structures involved. Locomotion: origin of the locomotor rhythm, descending control from higher structures and integration with ascending sensory information; nervous structures involved.

Voluntary movements

Motivation, ideation, planning and execution of voluntary movements. Role of association and motor cortical areas, cerebellum, basal nuclei, thalamus, brainstem nuclei and sensory input. Somatotopic representation of the skeletal muscles in the primary motor cortex. Functional organization of the descending motor pathways. Motor learning and motor memory formation.


Autonomic nervous system

Functional organization of the autonomic nervous system: sympathetic, parasympathetic and enteric sections. Autonomic reflexes. Pre- and post-ganglionic neurotransmitters. Nicotinic and muscarinic cholinergic receptors. Alpha- and beta-adrenergic receptors. Functional significance and effects of orthosympathetic and parasympathetic stimulation on various organs and systems. Central control of the autonomic nervous system and interactions with the neuroendocrine system.


Higher functions of the nervous system

Association areas of the cerebral cortex. Neural centers of language. Limbic system. Emotions, mood, alertness, attention, function of the ascending cholinergic, noradrenergic, dopaminergic and serotonergic neural pathways. Learning and memory. Types of memory in humans: qualitative and temporal classification. Synaptic plasticity: molecular basis of learning and memory formation. Long-term enhancement (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD) of glutamate synaptic transmission, role of ionotropic and metabotropic receptors, presynaptic and postsynaptic modulatory mechanisms, maintenance of LTP and long-term memory consolidation, structural modifications of the synapses. Electroencephalography, wake-sleep cycle.


Neuroendocrine integrated functions and physiological functions of hormones

General principles of hormonal physiology. Mechanisms of hormonal action. Mechanisms of control of hormonal secretion. Role of hypothalamus and pituitary gland on the control of hormonal secretion.

Physiological functions of pituitary, pancreatic, adrenal, thyroid and parathyroid hormones. Mechanisms of regulation of calcium and glucose blood levels.




E. Carbone, G. Aicardi, R. Maggi - Fisiologia: dalle molecole ai sistemi integrati, (second edition) EdiSES, 2018.

Teaching methods

Lectures using Power Point presentations.

Exercises in which the method of performing electromyography in humans is shown.

Assessment methods

The learning assessment consists of two tests, each one divided into a written and an oral part; the two tests must be taken sequentially (the first one is preparatory to the second one).

1) The first test deals with the didactic module "Neurophysiology and physiology of the endocrine system"; the outcome is evaluated in thirtieths.

2) The second test (which can be taken the same day or later, within 24 months) mainly concerns the didactic module "Physiology of organs and apparatuses; the outcome is evaluated in thirtieths.

The final grade is the arithmetic average of the grades reported in the two tests.

Teaching tools

Power Point presentations; dedicated computer equipment and programs for exercises.

Office hours

See the website of Giorgio Aicardi