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Escape from Planet Soma

Mastering the Physiological Principles of Neuronal Signaling


Sheri L. Boyce
Department of Biological Sciences
Messiah College


In this case, students assume the role of a fictitious space explorer captured by aliens. To win their release, they must correctly explain the neurophysiology underlying some of the punishments used by the aliens to deter attempts at escape. The purpose of the case is two-fold. First, it strengthens students' understanding of ion channel function to the point where they are able to make predictions about the ability of the cell to generate an action potential if the activity of a particular ion channel is altered. Second, students are encouraged to place neuronal signaling in a larger context by hypothesizing how altered activity in a specified region or division of the nervous system will be manifested in physical symptoms. While written for a two-semester anatomy and physiology course, this case would also be useful in an undergraduate physiology or neuroscience course or in any course in which students must gain an understanding of foundational neurophysiology.

  • Apply knowledge of basic neurophysiology principles to predict the potential effects of altering sodium and potassium ion channel function on neuronal excitability.
  • Predict the symptoms produced by alteration of neuron excitability in various regions or parts of the peripheral and central nervous systems.
  • Gain an appreciation for the role of ion channel function in a variety of diseases and pathological conditions.
Keywords: Nervous system; neurophysiology; neuronal signaling; neurons; action potentials; graded potentials; resting membrane potentials; ion channel function; sodium channel; potassium channel; myelin; neurotoxin; batrachotoxin; dendrotoxin; sevoflurane
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Interrupted, Role-Play
Language: English
Subject Headings: Physiology   Neuroscience   Biology (General)  
Date Posted: 4/14/2011
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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