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Learning and Memory Program


The Learning and Memory Program supports innovative fundamental research on the mechanisms underlying learning and memory at the circuit level in animals and humans. This program supports research on a range of cognitive processes, including working memory, episodic encoding, consolidation, and retrieval. Research is also encouraged on the learning processes that encode higher cognitive functions such as spatial processing within working memory, learning and memory for rules, and quantitative processing.

Examples of questions of interest include but are not limited to: What neural systems and computational algorithms support the various forms of memory? How are cognitive algorithms implemented, and how is information processed neurally according to particular cognitive goals?  How are brain algorithms initially set up for a current cognitive task or goal, such as working memory or transitive inference on a learned list? How does the brain switch among different algorithms moment-to-moment? What biological, systems-level mechanisms underlie how information is learned, recalled, and modified when needed? Investigation of the interactions among the neural systems mediating these functions is of particular interest, as is the use of integrative and multimodal approaches such as electrophysiology, imaging, optogenetic, and genomic manipulation techniques.  Investigators must justify their choice of experimental systems within the framework of mental-health relevant behavior and demonstrate that the findings will be relevant to learning and memory in persons with mental illness.

Areas of Emphasis

  • Understanding how ensembles and networks of neurons are coordinated to implement learning and memory
  • Understanding how various types of learning and memory take place, including spatial memory and learning abstract thought processes
  • Temporal dynamics such as local field potential oscillations to understand the algorithms and complex patterns of electrophysiological signals underlying learning, consolidation, and recall
  • Examining how switching between brain states is triggered, such as switching between memory encoding, and recall
  • Using specific, causal, biological manipulations of neural circuits that subserve learning and memory
  • Understanding individual differences in the expression of learning and memory as mediated by neurophysiological and/or genomic mechanisms
  • Understanding how higher cognitive processes are learned, consolidated, modified, and executed, and how aberrant processes may be corrected
  • Understanding the role of development and sex differences in learning and memory 
  • Translating fundamental knowledge about circuit-level processes into the therapeutic realm

Areas of Lower Priority

  • Projects that do not integrate multiple levels of analysis
  • Basic mechanistic studies of motor systems and motor function
  • Projects that focus on classical conditioning tasks
  • Projects based upon single region-based or static conceptual models of brain function and behavior
  • Projects that lack neurobiological measures or remain at a single level of analysis
  • Projects that investigate candidate genes lacking genome-wide association

Applicants are strongly encouraged to discuss their proposals with the Institute contact listed below prior to the submission of their application to ascertain that their proposed work is aligned with NIMH funding priorities.

Applications should adhere to published recommendations detailed in a notice in the NIH Guide (NOT-14-004) and summarized in Enhancing the Reliability of NIMH-Supported Research through Rigorous Study Design and Reporting on the NIMH website.


Bettina Buhring, Ph.D.
Program Chief
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 7190, MSC 9637