Stanford School of Medicine
Course Catalog

Molecular and Cellular Physiology


Brian Kobilka, MD

Department web site:

Faculty of Molecular and Cellular Physiology:

Department Offices:

Beckman Center, B100
Mail Code: 5345
Stanford, CA 94305-5345

(650) 725-7554

Courses offered by the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology are listed under the subject code MCP on Stanford Bulletin's ExploreCourses web site.

The Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology is located in the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine.

A central goal of physiology in the post-genomic era is to understand how thousands of encoded proteins serve to bring about the highly coordinated behavior of cells and tissues. Research in the department approaches this goal at many levels of organization, ranging from single molecules and individual cells to multicellular systems and the whole organism. The faculty share common interests in the molecular mechanisms of cell signaling and behavior, with a special focus on structure/function analysis of ion channels and G-protein coupled receptors, and their roles at the cellular, organ, and whole-organism levels; the molecular basis of sensory transduction, synaptic transmission, plasticity and memory; the role of ion channels and calcium in controlling gene expression in neural and immune cells; and the regulation of vesicle trafficking and targeting, cell polarity, and cell-cell interactions in the nervous system and in epithelia. Research programs employ a wide range of approaches, including molecular and cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, biophysics, x-ray crystallography and solution NMR, electrophysiology, and in vitro and in vivo imaging with confocal and multi-photon microscopy.

Course and lab instruction in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology conforms to the “Policy on the Use of Vertebrate Animals in Teaching Activities,” the text of which is available at


The department offers required and elective courses for students in the School of Medicine and is also open to other qualified students with the consent of the instructor. Training of medical, graduate, and postdoctoral students is available. The program offers a course of study leading to the PhD degree. No BS is offered, and an MS is offered only in the unusual circumstance where a student completes the course work, rotation, and the written section of the qualifying exam, but is unable to complete the requirements for the PhD.


Students with undergraduate or master’s degrees who have completed a year each of college chemistry (including lectures in organic and physical chemistry), physics, calculus, and biology are considered for admission to graduate study. Applicants submit a report of scores from the Graduate Record Examination (verbal, quantitative, analytical, and an advanced subject test in one of the sciences) as part of the application.

Students who do not speak English as their native language must submit scores from TOEFL unless waived by Graduate Admissions, the Registrar’s Office.

Study toward the PhD is expected to occupy five years, including summers. A minimum of six quarter-long courses is required. These include four graduate-level courses (200-300 series) and a choice of two out of these three courses: MCP 221, MCP 255, and MCP 256. Students are also required to take the Molecular and Cellular Physiology seminar/ Research In Progress series. Each student presents a talk on research in progress to the department at least every other year, starting their second year. Acceptable grades for all course work must be a minimum of ‘B-’, and at least two grades equal to ‘A-’ or above are necessary (but not sufficient) for continuation in the program.

Qualifying Examination — At the end of the second year in residence as a graduate student, each PhD candidate presents a written thesis proposal to be defended at an oral comprehensive examination. The examinations may be taken only after all course work has been completed by the required standard. Students undertake individual research studies as early as possible after consultation with their preceptor. Upon passing this exam, the student is advanced to candidacy for the PhD.

Dissertation and University Oral Examination — The results of independent, original work by the students are presented in a dissertation. The oral examination is largely a defense of the dissertation.

Advisors and Advisory Committees — A graduate advisory committee, currently Professors Lewis and Madison, advises students during the period before the formation of their qualifying committees.

Financial Aid — Students may be funded by their advisors’ research grants, by training grants, by department funds, or by extramural funds. Students are encouraged to obtain funding from outside sources such as NIH and NSF.


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