76149 - Physiology

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 2022/2023

Learning outcomes

Describe the basic mechanisms of transport of substances across cell membranes. Discuss the role of ions in information processing, with particular reference to the resting membrane potential and action potential. Discuss the principles and modalities of synaptic transmission. Describe the process of signal transduction and transmission in sensory receptors. Describe the basic principles of body fluid distribution and dynamics. Discuss how disruptions in physiological pathways may lead to disease, and illustrate with specific examples.

Course contents

Transports (8 hours)

Plasma membrane: structure and compositions. Water channels, ion channels, solute carriers, ATP-dependent transporters. Vesicular transports.

Selective permeability of the membrane. Water and solutes transport across the membrane. Passive transport: diffusion and Fick’s law. Facilitated diffusion (uniports). Primary active transport: pumps. Secondary active transports: synports; antiports.

Osmosis. Water and solutes transport across epithelia. Tonicity. Regulation of cell volume. The Gibbs-Donnan effect.

Water compartments of the body, ionic composition of extracellular and intracellular fluids.

Epithelial transport. Vectorial transport. Transcellular and paracellular transport.

Fluid exchange in the capillaries. Capillary filtration: Starling equation. Hemorrhage. Lymphatic system. Oxygen and carbon dioxide transport.

The membrane potential and the action potential (6 hours)

The electrochemical balance. The Nernst equation. The membrane potential. The Goldman-Hodgkin-Katz equation. Electrical properties of the membrane. Depolarization and hyperpolarization. Ionic currents

The action potential. The threshold. The regenerative mechanism. Changes in ion conductance during the action potential. The Hodgkin cycle. The refractory period. Propagation of electrotonic currents (time and length constants) and propagation of the action potential. Myelinated and unmyelinated axons

The excitation of membranes and the voltage-gated channels in neurons, smooth muscle, and myocardiocytes

Synaptic transmission (4 hours)

Electric synapses. Chemical synapses. Synthesis and metabolism of neurotransmitters. Classification of neurotransmitters. Receptors.

Ionotropic and metabotropic receptors. EPSP and IPSP. Spatial and temporal summation. Presynaptic inhibition. The Neuromuscular junction.

Sensory receptors (2 hours)

Classification of sensory receptors. The adequate stimulus. The threshold. The receptor potential. Propagation of the signal along the neural pathway.

Neural firing patterns transmit sensory information to the brain. Coding of the intensity of the stimulus. Adaptation. Receptive fields.

General sensibility (4 hours)

Receptors and fibers involved in the sense of touch, in kinesthesia, in thermal sensation and in pain. Pain physiology.

General Principles of Muscle Physiology (2 hours)

Skeletal muscle; cardiac muscle; smooth muscle

Physiological Homeostasis (4 hours)

General principles of the endocrine system. The endocrine role of the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. The endocrine axis.

The Autonomic Nervous System. Morphofunctional organization of the autonomic nervous system: sympathetic, parasympathetic and enteric divisions. Action of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems on the main organs. Central control of the autonomic function.

Calcium and Phosphate (2 hours)

Ca2+ and Pi metabolism. The Parathyroid hormone. Vitamin D. Calcitonin. General effects on kidney and GI tract. Bone physiology.


Berne & Levy Physiology - 7th Edition - Elsevier

Principles of Neural Science, Kandel, Schwartz et al Fifth Edition

Teaching methods

Frontal lectures

Attendance to learning activities is mandatory.

  • The minimum attendance requirement to be admitted to the final exam is 60% of lessons. Since this learning activity is part of an Integrated Course (I.C. #84284-Signaling pathways in health and disease), the 60% attendance requirement refers to the total amount of I.C. lessons (14 CFUs=112 total hours). Students who fail to meet the minimum attendance requirement (i.e. 67 hours) will not be admitted to the final exam of this I.C., and will have to attend relevant classes again during the next academic year. Professors may authorise excused absences upon receipt of proper justifying documentation, in case of illness or serious reasons. Excused absences do not count against a student’s attendance record to determine their minimum attendance requirement.

Assessment methods

Students who regularly attended the course of Cell Signaling will be evaluated through a four-hour FINAL EXAM, a cumulative written test with both multiple-choice and open-ended response formats that include topics from all the teaching modules of the integrated course of Signaling Pathways in Health and Disease: Cell Signaling, Metabolic Biochemistry and Physiology. Final Grade Fractions: Cell Signaling, 9/32 pts; Metabolic Biochemistry 14/32 pts; Physiology, 9/32 pts. MAX GRADE: 30 cum laude.


The final exam for the module of Physiology will be a multiple choice test

Teaching tools

Check Virtuale UNIBO website

Office hours

See the website of Davide Martelli