Cholinergic synapses and neuromuscular junctions (AQA A-level Biology)

This fully-resourced lesson covers the content of the first part of specification point 6.2.2 of the AQA A-level Biology specification that states that students should be able to describe the detailed structure of a cholinergic synapse and a neuromuscular junction and be able to compare the transmission across both of these structures. The majority of the lesson uses the cholinergic synapse as the example but other neurotransmitters and drugs are considered so students are prepared to describe the differing effects on the synapse.

The lesson begins by using a version of the WALL (as shown in the cover image) which asks the students to group 12 words into three groups of 4. Not only will this challenge their prior knowledge from topics earlier in this module but it will also lead to the discovery of four of the structures that are found in a synapse. Moving forwards, students are introduced to aectylcholine as the neurotransmitter involved at cholinergic synapses and they will start to add labels to the structures found in the pre-synaptic bulb. Time is taken to focus on certain structures such as the voltage gated channels as these types of channel were met previously when looking at the depolarisation of a neurone. There is plenty of challenge and discovery as students are pushed to explain why organelles like mitochondria would be found in large numbers in the bulb. With this process being a cascade of events, a bullet point format is used to ensure that the key content is taken in by the students and again key points like exocytosis and the action of acetylcholinesterase are discussed further. The next part of the lesson challenges the application aspect of the specification as students are introduced to unfamiliar situations in terms of synapses with new drugs like MDMA and are asked to work out and explain how these affect the nervous transmission. The final part of the lesson focuses on the NMJ and challenges the students to use the knowledge gained from earlier in the lesson to develop their understanding of these junctions. Time is taken to look at the structure of the sarcolemma to enable students to understand how the binding of the acetylcholine leads to the wave of depolarisation passing to the transverse tubules.

Understanding checks and prior knowledge checks are included throughout the lesson so that students can not only assess their progress against the current topic but also see whether they can make links to earlier topics.

This lesson has been designed for students studying the AQA A-level Biology course but could be used with very able GCSE students who are keen to develop their understanding of synapses over and above the small detail that is provided at that level. This lesson also ties in nicely with the other uploaded lessons from topic 6

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  • Cholinergic-synapses-and-neuromuscular-junctions.pptx
  • The-structure-of-a-cholinergic-synapse-and-the-cascade-of-events.docx
  • Applying-your-understanding-of-the-role-of-the-synapse.docx
  • Cascade-of-events-at-a-NMJ.docx
  • Cascade-of-events-at-a-NMJ-STARS.docx

About this resource


Created: Sep 14, 2019

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

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pptx, 2 MB



docx, 60 KB



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