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Priorities for Strategy 1.3

Updated: September, 2017

Map the connectomes for mental illnesses

NIMH encourages the use of existing research tools and technologies, as well as the innovative, scalable technologies generated by the BRAIN Initiative, to characterize the human brain connectomes for mental illnesses.

Research Priorities

  1. Identify cells and brain networks that contribute to various aspects of mental function and dysfunction, such as cognition, emotion, and social behavior.

    Priority areas include:

    1. Identifying dynamic changes in circuit connectivity that alter neural activity patterns and compromise aspects of cognitive, affective, and social functioning and information processing.
    2. Investigating how aberrations in neural patterns of activity in one region of a network affect the patterns of activity in other brain regions, and how this could play a role in the underlying pathology of a particular mental illness.
    3. Discovering abnormal changes in brain at the single cell level and how the changes could contribute to psychiatric disorders, by characterizing cell molecular signatures, morphology, location, microenvironment, neuronal connectivity, and cell interactions.

  2. Determine how changes in the physiological properties of molecules, cells, and circuits contribute to mental illnesses.

    Priority areas include:

    1. Investigating how abnormalities at the cellular, molecular, and circuit level affect the coordination of electrophysiological patterns during cognitive function, emotion regulation, and social cognition.

  3. Develop biomarkers of impaired neural function in humans at the level of molecules, cells, and circuits.

    Priority areas include:

    1. Identifying biomarkers1 to assess synaptic integrity, plasticity, and function.
    2. Identifying biomarkers to detect changes in activation of immune signaling pathways and cells in the brain.
    3. Developing the biological evidence (e.g., stratification, enrichment, predictors of response, or indicators of outcome) needed to validate a biomarker, or composite biomarker, for its intended context of use in clinical research or clinical trials.
    4. Assessing the analytical performance of validated biomarkers, composite biomarkers, or biomarker approaches for their potential clinical use.

  4. Develop innovative technologies, as well as new pharmacological and genetic tools, to interrogate and modulate the signaling pathways and circuits altered by mental illnesses.

    Priority areas include:

    1. Investigating the connectivity of brain networks that are relevant to mental illnesses.
    2. Developing novel imaging tools for visualization and analyses of brain structure and function, with particular interest in advancing real-time measurement approaches for analyzing brain function. These tools should have the appropriate spatial and temporal resolution to understand neural processing.  NIMH expects studies to use Human Connectome Project protocols and rigorous analytical and processing pipelines to facilitate data integration and meta-analyses across data sets. 

1 A biomarker is a defined characteristic that is measured as an indicator of normal biological processes, pathogenic processes, or responses to an exposure or intervention, including therapeutic interventions. Molecular, histologic, radiographic, or physiologic characteristics are types of biomarkers. A biomarker is not an assessment of how an individual feels, functions, or survives. (BEST (Biomarkers, EndpointS, and other tools) Resource, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK326791/).