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The Campus Coffee Shop

Caffeine Conundrums

Wendy Heck-Grillo
Department of Biology
North Carolina Central University
Andrea Novicki
Center for Instructional Technology
Duke University
Brian Rybarczyk
Graduate School
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Since caffeine is a widely used substance, especially by college age students, this case on the effects of caffeine on the human body serves as a real-world connection to many students’ lives. The case is divided into sections covering background information on caffeine, cell biology and signal transduction, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular effects, and addiction/withdrawal. The case was designed so that a section can be used alone or in combination with other sections, as dictated by topic/curriculum needs. It would be appropriate for use in a variety of science and health related courses, including anatomy and physiology, disease related courses, genetics, cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience.


  • Identify sources of caffeine in foods and drinks.
  • Describe the chemical structure of caffeine and general physiological effects of caffeine consumption.
  • Explain which molecules in the nervous system interact with caffeine.
  • Determine the relationship between caffeine consumption and the incidence of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Hypothesize biological explanations for the correlation between caffeine and Parkinson’s.
  • Explain the molecular basis of changes in blood pressure in response to caffeine.
  • Determine potential outcomes of interactions between caffeine and catecholamine signaling pathways.
  • Identify symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.
  • Differentiate between drug dependence and drug addiction, and categorize caffeine into one of these states.
  • Explain how adenosine and dopamine contribute to caffeine dependence or addiction.


Caffeine; receptor function; adenosine receptor; signal transduction; cell signaling; Parkinson's disease; neurotransmitters; vasoconstriction; catecholamine; blood pressure; substance use; caffeine addiction; caffeine withdrawal; experimental design

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division



Type Methods

Interrupted, Jig-Saw



Subject Headings

Cell Biology Molecular Biology Biochemistry Physiology Neuroscience Genetics / Heredity

Date Posted


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