What is Neurobiology?


Neurobiology is the study of the cells and tissues of the nervous system and how the brain works including the brain, spine, neural circuits, and nerves that work throughout the body. Neurobiology is a subset of both physiology and neuroscience. The full vertebrate nervous system includes both the central and peripheral nervous systems

The central nervous system consists of the brain, retina, and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system comprises of the nerves outside the central nervous system that connect it to the rest of the body. Neurobiology can include other scientific disciplines, such as molecular biology and gene regulation.

Neurotransmitters are responsible for one of three functions: either exciting, inhibiting, or modulating neurons. Most neurobiological disorders are caused due to fluctuations in these levels and the ways that neurotransmitters are sent or received. Fluctuations can be caused by over or under-production of neurotransmitters.

Neuroscience is the scientific study of functions and disorders that are related to the nervous system. Neuroscience uses this information from neurobiology to study how the brain and nervous system work to create personality, cognitive thinking, memory, speech, and more including mapping the brain and areas of cognition and specialized functionality.

It is a multidisciplinary science that combines physiology, anatomy, molecular biology, developmental biology, cytology, psychology, physics, computer science, chemistry, medicine, statistics, and mathematical modeling to understand the fundamental and emerging properties of neurons, glia, and neural circuits. The techniques used by neuroscientists have expanded enormously, from molecular and cellular studies of individual neurons to imaging of sensory, motor, and cognitive tasks in the brain.

Electroencephalography (EEG) is used to study neuronal firing patterns and other brain activity. This is an important clinical tool used for understanding the relationships between brain functions and behavior. EEG is widely used by researchers for noninvasive brain studies. Activities associated with the processing of information such as cognitive, perceptual, and motor activity can be evaluated using EEG.

Neuroscience and Medicine

Clinical Neuroscience

There are some medical specialties that specifically address the diseases of the nervous system such as neurology, psychiatry, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, neuropathology, ophthalmology, addiction medicine, and sleep medicine etc. Neurology works with diseases of the central and peripheral nervous systems.

Psychiatry focuses on affective, behavioral, cognitive, and perceptual disorders. Anesthesiology focuses on perception of pain, and pharmacologic alteration of consciousness. Neurosurgery and psychosurgery work primarily with surgical treatment of diseases of the central and peripheral nervous systems.

Translational Research

The basic research in neuroscience has influenced various specialties. Integrative neuroscience describes the effort to combine models and information from multiple levels of research to develop a coherent model of the nervous system. For example, brain imaging coupled with physiological numerical models and theories of fundamental mechanisms may shed light on psychiatric disorders.

Another important area of translational research is brain-computer interfaces that are able to communicate and influence the brain. These interfaces are currently being researched for their potential to repair neural systems and restore certain cognitive functions.

Types of Neurobiology Research

Behavioral Neurobiology

An interdisciplinary branch of behavioral neuroscience which is used to study how the central nervous system translates biologically relevant stimuli into natural behavior such as learning and memory.

Developmental Neurobiology

A specialized branch of neuroscience which helps to examine the processes which contribute to brain development and function and how cells transform and migrate to their roles in the nervous system. This helps in understanding neurobiological disorders.

Molecular Neurobiology

Another specialized branch also known as molecular neuroscience which helps to study the effect of genetics on neuronal development and the molecular basis for neuroplasticity and neurodegenerative disease. This is a relatively new and dynamic field.

Neurobiology of Addiction

A specialized branch of neuroscience examines how neural circuits play a role in addiction by examining the molecular biology of addiction targets in the brain. Human brain imaging studies help to understand the changes which contribute to addiction.

Neurobiology of Aging

A specialized branch of neuroscience that studies how normal brain aging functions which helps to compare normal neurobiology with neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and age-associated memory impairment.

Neurobiology of Anxiety

Another specialized branch of neuroscience that examines changes in neurons, neuroendocrine and neurotransmitter activity in anxiety and depression. They study the specific areas of the brain where the greatest changes occur which contributes to our understanding of treatment for anxiety disorders.

Neurobiology of Autism

Researchers in this specialized branch of neuroscience study the neurodevelopmental factors which contribute to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which include genetic influence, brain development, and brain networks. They also explore the relationship between neuroanatomical brain regions and the onset of ASD.

Neurobiology of Psychiatric Disorders

A specialized branch of neuroscience which strives to understand the roles of neurotransmitters in psychiatric disorders. Molecular genetics plays a role in understanding this field.

Neurobiology of Bipolar Disorder

A specialized branch of neuroscience and research into psychiatric disorders. The complex nature of bipolar disorder is fluctuations between mania and depression.

Neurobiology of Trauma

A specialized branch of neuroscience which explores the interconnected roles of different brain regions, endocrine, and neurotransmitter responses. These effects are studied in short and long-term brain health at the molecular, cellular, and behavioral levels which helps with developmental neurobiology for childhood trauma or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Neurobiology of Sleep

A multidisciplinary area of neuroscience that studies sleep and wake-promoting neurons, contributing genetic factors, and behavioral factors that regulate sleep. Discoveries in this field contribute to our understanding and treatments available for sleep and circadian disorders.

Engineering Applications of Neuroscience

Neuromorphic Computer Chips

Neuromorphic engineering is a branch of neuroscience that deals with creating functional physical models of neurons for the purposes of useful computation. For example, SpiNNaker supercomputer. Sensors can also be made smart with neuromorphic technology. Neuromorphic microchip technology led to the creation of an artificial neuron that can replace real neurons in diseases.


Neurobiology focuses on the cells of the nervous system. Molecular biological approaches are revealing the molecules involved in carrying out neural activities, and we are rapidly gaining glimpses of how these molecules function.

The study of integrative or systems neurobiology, the study of aggregates of neurons and functional circuits has been increased. The scope of neuroscience has broadened over time to include different approaches used to study the nervous system at different scales. Each region of the brain affects a different area of behavior, and neurobiology aims to understand these behaviors and the connection to different parts of the brain.

Updated on: 18-May-2023


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