Learning outcomes of the course unit
The Course aims at imparting basic notions about how a cell is structured and how it works inside and towards the exterior. This when considering it as a single entity as well as an element in a social/tissue context. Students are therefore expected to gain a thorough understanding of cellular phenomena and how they are regulated. This by also familiarizing with the technologies that may be used for studying these phenomena and the overall cell behaviour. Through this course students are expected to acquire a solid background in a variety of cell biology-related topics and to be fully informed about the structural-functional traits of different cell phenotypes.
Students will strongly benefit by having a basic knowledge in biochemistry, molecular biology and to some extent microbiology/immunology.
Course contents summary
The Course starts with a comprehensive presentation of the up-to-date methods, procedures and equipment utilized to visualize and assess cells in vitro and in their natural environment. It illustrates approaches to monitor the behaviour of cells (visualized collectively or as single cells) in vitro and within the organism using fluorescent and non-fluorescent methods, video time-lapse, intravital micrsocopy and super resolution microscopy. All currently available microscopic techniques are thoroughly described, along with complementary procedures. The Course then continues with the elaboration of the structural-functional traits of cell membranes, the modes through which single components and macromolecular complexes are anchored to it, and how the external cell membrane is linked to the cytoskeleton. It then approaches how the transport of ions, solutes, and smaller molecules across the membrane ensues and it discusses the concept of electrochemical transmission through modulation of the cell membrane potential.
A substantial part of the Course is dedicated to the understanding of the modes through which cells interact with their microenvironment, in the first instance by establishing cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix contacts and secondarily by adopting a variety of junctional complexes to assure effective communication with neighboring cells and their matrix substrates. In this context, representative examples are given on how cellular interactions are critically important for the homeostatic, patho-physiological and pathological phenomena talking place in the human (vertebrate) body. When treating these aspects, students are introduced into the structural-functional peculiarities of the cytoskeleton and the complex regulation of its dynamics. Even in this case, these notions are put into context by elaborating on the phenomena of cell adhesion, mechanotransduction and the regulation of cell motility. To conclude this part of the Course a fair amount of time is spent describing the structural-functional characteristics of the three primary categories of matrices, interstitial-, fibrillar- and basement membrane-type and how their assembly and remodeling is governed.
Subjects related to intracellular events and including protein synthesis and post-translational elaboration, vesicle trafficking, endocytosis/phagocytosis and dynamics of organelles is thoroughly discussed, along with a deeper elaboration of the structural-functional properties and significance of motor proteins. Another extensively elaborated chapter is that related to cell signaling and the mechanisms of signal transduction. This is immediately followed by an overview of the regulation of the cell cycle and modes of cell division. In its final part, the Course approaches the phenomenon of programmed cell death. This is done by putting it into physiological and pathological contexts and by dwelling upon the primary mechanisms underlying its control.
The Course treats the following subjects:
1) Methods and equipment used to visualize cells and monitor their behaviour in vitro and in vivo;
2) Structure and composition of cell membranes;
3) Transport of ions and solutes across the cell membrane and the principle of electrochemical signalling;
4) Cell junctions involved in cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix interactions and their role in controlling cellular physiological and pathological cellular phenomena;
5) Structure, composition and remodeling of extracellular matrices and their role in the governance of tissue homeostasis;
6) Structure, function and dynamics of the cytoskeleton and the processes of mechanotransduction and cell motility;
7) Structure and function of motor proteins;
8) Protein synthesis and post-translational modification;
9) Vesiscle trafficking, endo- and exocytosis;
10) Mechanisms and modalities of signal transduction;
11) Regulation of the cell cycle and the process of cell division;
12) Mechanisms controlling programmed cell death.
The recommended course book is the “The Molecular Biology of THE CELL”, authored by Bruce Alberts and coauthors (i.e. Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis, David Morgan, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts, Peter Walter), Sixth Edition, 2015, Garland Science. Recommendation of this text book is highly compatible with worldwide renowned appreciation of the book by both lecturers and students attending undergraduate Cell Biology courses and analogous courses.
The Course is entirely based upon conventional lecturing. Lectures are based upon PowerPoint presentations portraying the sequence of figures of the Chapters of the book Alberts and co-authors that are treated during the Course and complemented by scheme, figures and other more updated and/or more complete illustrations derived from scientific articles.
Assessment methods and criteria
Evaluation of course proficiency is accomplished through a written test based upon 32 multiple choice questions (typically 5 choices/question) strictly related to the content of the Course and/or subjects that have been extensively dealt upon during the lectures. Correct answer may be one or more of the indicated choices and is invariably scored with one point (i.e. there are no half-point scorings). Each question is correctly replied solely when the exact answer(s) has been ticked. The cumulative score, resulting from the sum of all points obtained in a given test, defines a putative, preliminary vote (e.g. a total scoring of 24 for one exam is equivalent to the vote 24/30). Correction of tests usually requires 7-10 days and the results are posted on the Esse3 platform or are posted as an advertisement on the web page of the Department of Biosciences. Tests can be viewed by the students during an official oral exam. It is a prerogative of the individual student to choose to confirm the vote achieved through the total score of a written test as the vote to register as a final vote for the exam of the Course, or opt for a conventional oral exam, which will have the purpose to integrate the performance of the written test. This means that the putative, preliminary vote constitutes a “baseline vote”, which can only be incremented through the oral exam (and not reduced).
ALL FINAL registrations of the scores obtained in written tests and eventually assigned as a definite vote are done in an official exam. It is MANDATORY to sign up for the participation at all written test and oral exams, through the Esse3 platform. This means that it is not possible register votes outside of the official exam periods. There is no limit in the amount of written tests that can be taken during an official exam period or during the entire academic year. To note is, however, that it is MANDATORY to achieve a minimum score of 18 in one written test to be able to access the oral exam for registration of the score obtained as a final vote or to undergo the oral exam. The score received on a written test lasts forever. In exceptional cases in which a student has achieved a score of 16-17 in 3 or more tests (even non consecutive), the student may be allowed to access an oral exam.