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Human Brain Collection Core

For Researchers

Mission: The mission of Human Brain Collection Core (HBCC) is to learn about the causes and mechanisms of mental illnesses, which are brain diseases. To be able to conduct this research, we obtain brains from deceased individuals with and without mental illness. The results will help scientists develop new therapies and preventive strategies.

Sources of Donated Brains: We obtain brains through the Offices of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCMEs) of Virginia and the District of Columbia. Our personnel are notified of potential donations by OCMEs. We then contact the next-of-kin of the decedent to obtain consent for donation of the entire brain and a   blood sample. Our personnel audiotape the next-of-kin’s consent as an official record of the donation. Only after obtaining consent, we arrange with the OCMEs to collect the tissues. There is no cost to the next-of-kin or the decedent’s family. There is no direct benefit to the family for allowing the donation. The donation is strictly voluntary. If you wish to learn more about the donation process, visit the section FOR FAMILIES.

Confidentiality: We protect the confidentiality of the decedent by removing his/her name and all identifying information from any materials we receive.

Characterization of Subjects: We try to obtain further information about the decedent’s medical and psychiatric history through interviews with the family and released medical records after obtaining written authorization from the next-of-kin. We will accept a donation even if the next-of-kin does not wish to answer follow-up questions. We do not provide any individual research results to the next-of-kin or the families or comments about the cause of death. The families should contact the OCMEs directly if they have further questions about the decedent.

All our procedures are approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) (protocol #17-M-N073).

Tissue Processing: Each brain is sliced into ~1 cm slabs, using a plastic mold to assure symmetry and consistency between the slices and brains. The slabs are deep-frozen in a slurry of isopentane and dry ice within a short period of time upon arrival in our lab. Some tissue portions are dissected from the brain before freezing and either frozen separately (e.g. midbrain) or placed in formalin for neuropathological examination (e.g., assessment of neurodegenerative disorders).

The slabs are barcoded and stored in individual plastic bags in -80°C freezers until dissections of circumscribed brain regions are performed for individual projects. Dissections are performed using a dental drill or a scalpel. Tissue is either stored in small blocks or pulverized and aliquoted without thawing at any time during the procedure.

Whole blood is sent to the National Medical Services Lab for routine or custom toxicological analysis, depending on the subject’s medical history. The remaining blood is stored for research purposes in -80°C freezers.

Research Projects: A majority of research projects are performed as collaborations with intramural and extramural researchers, and some are performed within HBCC.

In the last 4 years (2014-218), HBCC obtained requests for samples for 125 individual projects, 47% from researchers from institutions outside NIH, 10% from NIMH, 43% from other NIH institutes. During this time, HBCC distributed over 22,500 samples.

HBCC also distributes the data obtained by RNA, DNA and CHIP sequencing, genotyping, gene expression microarrays and quantitative PCR either through NIH approved websites (dbGaP) or directly to the approved investigators.

Resources: Currently, the HBCC resources include brain tissues (varying brain regions and amounts available) from individuals with the following diagnoses (numbers of individuals in parenthesis):

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (13)
  • Anxiety Disorders (19)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (2)
  • Bipolar Disorder (153)
  • Unspecified Depressive Disorder (31)
  • Eating Disorders (3)
  • HIV positive Cases (3)
  • Major Depressive Disorder (237)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (11)
  • Unspecified Psychosis (5)
  • Post-traumatic Syndrome Disorder (11)
  • Schizophrenia (199)
  • Substance Use Disorder (59)

We also have available:

  • Non-psychiatric Cases (Controls) (307)
  • Cases with various neurological disorders (42), including Parkinson’s Disease (7), Alzheimer’s Disease (9), Lewy Body Disease (2) Strokes (8), Seizures (4), Strokes/Ischemia in Infants (3), Huntington’s Disease (1), head injury or contusions (4), and other.

Other resources include:

  • cDNA libraries constructed from dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and subgenual cingulate cortex (sgACC), and dura from hundreds of subjects with mental disorders and controls
  • frozen sections (14 um thick) mounted on slides (DLPFC from 32 patients with schizophrenia and 63 controls),
  • formalin-fixed coronal slices (approximately 15 mm thick) of a single hemisphere from 15 controls, 10 patients with schizophrenia, 5 with major depression, 4 with bipolar disorder.

Make a Request: As a non-renewable resource, the human brain collection requires oversight and evaluation to ensure that specimens are distributed equitably and fairly to investigators. Requests for access to samples from the collection should be emailed to hbccmail@mail.nih.gov. The principal investigator requesting specimens or data will fill out a form sent by email. Requests should contain a project title and a brief project description as well as description of the type of specimen or data requested. Requests are reviewed for consistency with NIMH and HBCC mission and goals by an oversight committee. Requestor’s objectives will be evaluated for viability and practicality given the limited materials available. Committee members will review the requests and reply to the requestor with their recommendations and comments within 14 working days.

NIH investigators whose request has been approved will complete the Human Tissue Distribution Agreement form; investigators outside NIH will complete the Material Transfer Agreement (MTA). Go to MAKE A REQUEST section for more information.