Neurobiology: Definition & Concept

Instructor: John Williams
Neurobiology is a branch of biology that focuses on the structure and function of the nervous system in animals and humans. It is an important field, and one that has proven to be critical for the understanding of animal and human physiology.


Biology is the study of life and living things. This area of science is extremely broad and, therefore, it can be divided into smaller, more defined fields. These fields focus on a key aspect of biology, and individuals within these fields specialize in these specific areas. In terms of human biology, there are many different areas that focus on the processes and functions of different parts of the human body. One area of focus that is very important for this field is the area of neurobiology.

What Is Neurobiology?

Neurobiology is the branch of biology that deals with nervous system functions and structures. More specifically, neurobiology focuses on the cells and tissues of the nervous system and ways in which they can form structures and circuits (pathways) for controlling the body. This system includes common structures, such as the brain and spinal cord, and nerves. Neurobiology can be classified as a sub-discipline within the broader field of physiology. It is relatively broad as a scientific field, and can be applied to multiple organism types, including humans, vertebrate animals (animals with backbones), and invertebrates (animals without backbones). The term 'neurobiology' is often used as a substitute for neuroscience, but the key distinction is that neurobiology is often limited to just the biological aspect of this system, and not the interdisciplinary aspects that we see in neuroscience.

History of Neurobiology

Biological and medical investigations into the nervous system extend as far back as the ancient Egyptians, who routinely performed surgeries to relieve headaches and mental conditions. Throughout time, different civilizations explored the physiological and biological qualities of the nervous system. However, it wasn't until the 1890s that neurobiology began to develop into the modern science that we know today.

Sketch of Migraine Treatments in Ancient Egypt
Egyptian Medicine

In the 1890s, a scientist by the name of Camillo Golgi developed a method for staining nervous tissue. This allowed scientists to view the nervous system cells and, in turn, expanded the capabilities of investigators in this field. Around the same time, other physiologists were discovering functional areas of the brain and nervous system. Paul Broca and Carl Wernicke were able to show that there are distinct regions in the brain that focus on language and speech. John H. Jackson was able to discover the motor (movement) cortex in the brain and determine how it can control the movements within the body. These are a few of the many discoveries that ushered in a new era of neurobiology at the turn of the 20th century.

Regions of the Brain: A Key Target for Early Modern Neurobiology
brain regions

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