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Research Priorities for Strategic Objective 2

Updated: January 2019

Chart Mental Illness Trajectories to Determine When, Where, and How to Intervene

NIMH recognizes that manifest mental illnesses are likely the late signs of changes in brain circuits and disruptions in behavior and cognition that began years earlier. These early abnormalities may influence the course of subsequent brain and behavioral development and establish a trajectory of mental illness. The opportunity to identify individuals at highest risk early in the disease trajectory, and to intervene at the earliest possible time, promises to potentially prevent illness onset and minimize the overall burden of illness. To improve and enhance our understanding of the neurodevelopmental origins and progression of mental illnesses and thereby set the stage for preventive interventions and personalized outcome prediction, NIMH aims to develop a comprehensive picture of typical and atypical brain and behavioral development across the lifespan and in diverse populations. At the same time, the Institute aims to identify valid biomarkers and behavioral indicators that can tell us who is at risk, when development is going awry, or when an intervention can effectively restore function. NIMH encourages applications that address these aims, with particular attention paid to the dynamic and non-linear nature of development, and with the goals of characterizing sensitive periods, enhancing prediction, and identifying optimal treatment targets.

Research priority areas are identified within each of the following two strategies:

2.1: Characterize the developmental trajectories of brain maturation and dimensions of behavior to understand the roots of mental illnesses across diverse populations
2.2: Identify clinically useful biomarkers and behavioral indicators that predict change across the trajectory of illness

These research topics are not intended to be exhaustive. Prior to submitting an application, investigators are encouraged to contact NIMH program staff to discuss proposed aims and relevance to these objectives. Please reference the relevant strategic objective and research priority in the project summary section of your application. Investigators are also encouraged to take advantage of existing NIMH and NIH resources where appropriate.