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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

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Developmental Neurobiology Program

This program supports fundamental research on the mechanisms of nervous system development. Emphasis is on cortical and subcortical genes, proteins, cells and circuitry involved in cognition, emotion, social behavior and mental illness. This program is founded upon substantial evidence that subtle alterations in neural circuitry during critical periods in brain development underlie neuropsychiatric disorders that emerge later in life. However, a lack of clear pathophysiology and the probable involvement of multiple genetic and environmental influences make the study of psychiatric disorder etiology less tractable than that of other neurological (such as neurodegenerative) disorders.

To address this issue, the program supports studies of fundamental mechanisms underlying the establishment of functional circuitry in the developing brain, including disruptions of these mechanisms that have phenotypes relevant to mental illness. This program encompasses studies (a) of prenatal, early postnatal and adolescent development, (b) at the molecular, cellular and systems levels, (c) involving in vitro preparations, model organisms or humans. Areas of interest include:

  • Characterizing spatiotemporal networks of gene regulation and cell differentiation that underlie the development of neural connectivity important for cognition, emotion and social behavior.
  • Identifying critical periods of brain development and their underlying neural changes which, if genetically and/or environmentally perturbed, can later lead to mental disorders.
  • Integrating molecular and cellular changes during brain development with the emergence of social behaviors or measurable cognitive and affective parameters.
  • Applying improved and interdisciplinary methods (e.g., live imaging techniques, biomarkers, phenotyping, behavioral tasks and therapeutic agent testing) to longitudinal studies that are translatable between developing model organisms and humans.

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. 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.


David M. Panchision, Ph.D.
Program Chief
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 7189, MSC 9641