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Strategy 1.1

Develop an integrative understanding of basic brain-behavior processes that provide the foundation for understanding mental disorders.

NIMH encourages research on brain-behavior processes including emotion, executive function, impulsivity, social cognition, and memory, as well as research on model systems aimed at determining the neurobiological bases of these processes. Discovery-based and/or hypothesis-driven studies examining mechanisms of regulation or dysregulation of these domains are of particular interest. Investigators are encouraged to integrate their research across levels of analysis; utilize neurodevelopmental approaches; and study sex/gender differences. While a broad portfolio of behavioral research is supported by NIMH, higher priority will be given to studies linking behavioral research with neurobiological mechanisms. NIMH is also committed to a broad portfolio of animal research, with high priority given to studies of model animals (e.g. flies or mice with a mutation or allele relevant to human disease).

Research Priorities

  1. Support research on the development, structure, and function of neural circuits with a focus on those most relevant to mental disorders.

    Priority areas include:

    1. Probing the connectivity of brain networks, especially networks involving the prefrontal cortex during periods of risk for mental illness.
    2. Applying non-invasive techniques to understand the development and functions of brain networks; how changes in functional connectivity predispose to dysfunction; and/or how these changes may predict therapeutic efficacy.
    3. Studying plasticity (cellular, synaptic, circuit, and behavioral) and applying novel approaches to elucidate the neurobiological mechanisms of adaptive changes.
    4. Validating and applying novel models or model systems to examine normal and pathological neural processes; identifying the molecular components and/or circuits impacting domains of function at the core of mental disorders that may serve as targets for therapeutic and tool development.
    5. Identifying the mechanisms that underlie behavioral changes across development, including epistasis, gene x environment, or gene x development interactions.
  2. Develop novel tools and methodologies to elucidate how populations of neural cells work together within and between brain regions.

    Priority areas include:

    1. Developing novel imaging tools for visualization and analyses of neuroanatomical structure and function with particular interest in advancing non-invasive approaches for analyzing brain function.
    2. Developing assays that allow high-throughput phenotyping within simplified in vivo and circuit based cell models.
    3. Improving human stem cell techniques to study the molecular and cellular basis of mental disorders, including more efficient induction of pluripotency from alternative source cells.
    4. Improving acquisition, scale-up, and distribution of tissue and cell lines.

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