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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

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Developmental Neurobiology Program


This Program supports research on the fundamental biological mechanisms of nervous system development. This program is founded upon substantial evidence that subtle alterations during sensitive periods in brain development underlie neuropsychiatric disorders that emerge later in life. However, a lack of clearly defined pathophysiology and the probable involvement of multiple genetic and environmental influences make the study of psychiatric disease course less tractable than that of other neurological (such as neurodegenerative) disorders.

To address this issue, the program supports studies of mechanisms underlying cell differentiation and the establishment and maturation of functional circuitry in the developing brain, including disruptions of these mechanisms by risk factors associated with mental illness. This program encompasses studies (a) of prenatal, early postnatal and juvenile development, (b) at the molecular, cellular and systems levels, (c) involving in vitro preparations or in vivo analysis in model organisms.

Areas of Emphasis

  • Studies across species (including vertebrate and invertebrate) that illuminate generalizable, species-conserved developmental principles, e.g., regarding progenitor proliferation and fate specification, neurogenesis and gliogenesis, neuronal migration, axon guidance, dendritic arborization, synaptogenesis, circuit formation and maturation.
  • Studies in mammalian systems of brain developmental mechanisms in regions/circuits involved in cognitive, affective or social function, including species comparative studies.
  • Analysis of developmental plasticity and identification of novel sensitive periods in the development of synapses and circuits underlying cognitive, affective or social function.
  • Neurodevelopmental analysis of gene(s) where variants have been associated with disease risk at genome-wide significance, but where the basic biology of those genes is poorly understood (e.g., where functional analysis would enrich gene ontology).

Areas of Lower Priority

  • Research premised on ‘candidate’ risk genes that are not identified by well-powered, statistically significant genome-wide association (see NOT-MH-18-035 ).
  • Establishment or use of a ‘model of’ a disease (e.g., based on purported face validity and interpretation of behaviors as symptoms; see NOT-MH-19-053 ).
  • Studies in single model organisms of developmental stages or mechanisms that are known to be highly specific to that monophyletic group and unlikely to yield generalized biological principles or be relevant to human brain development, health or disease.

Applications addressing research gaps identified by the Report of the National Advisory Mental Health Council’s Workgroup “Transformative Neurodevelopmental Research in Mental Illness” are particularly encouraged. Applications should adhere to published recommendations detailed in a notice in the NIH Guide (NOT-MH-14-004 ) and summarized in Enhancing the Reliability of NIMH-Supported Research through Rigorous Study Design and Reporting on the NIMH website. Applicants are also strongly encouraged to discuss their proposals with the institute contact listed below prior to the submission of their applications to ascertain that their proposed work is aligned with NIMH funding priorities.


Sandeep Kishore, Ph.D.
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 7131, MSC 9645