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NIMH Creates Publicly Accessible Resource With Data From Healthy Volunteers

Research Highlight

Studying healthy people can help researchers understand how the brain works in states of health and illness. Although many mental health studies include healthy participants as a comparison group, these studies typically focus on selected measures relevant to a certain functional domain or specific mental illness. The Healthy Research Volunteer Study  at the National Institute of Mental Health aims to build a comprehensive, publicly accessible resource with a range of brain and behavioral data from healthy volunteers.

This resource aims to shed light on basic questions about brain function and translational questions about the relationship between brain and behavior. Although the study focuses on healthy volunteers, the data also have relevance to clinical questions about neurobiological, cognitive, and emotional processes associated with certain mental illnesses.

The NIMH Healthy Research Volunteer Study is unique in the breadth and depth of its measures. All data collected as part of the study are anonymized and shared with the research community via the OpenNeuro repository .

Given the time and effort required for participation, healthy volunteers are recruited from the local Washington, D.C., area. Interested volunteers start by completing an online screening questionnaire in which they report certain demographic and health information. Volunteers who meet the study inclusion criteria complete an in-person assessment, including comprehensive mental and physical health evaluations.

As part of the mental health evaluation, they complete a psychiatric diagnostic interview, self-report surveys of mood and anxiety symptoms, and a cognitive assessment. For the physical health evaluation, the study team interviews volunteers about their medical history and performs a comprehensive physical assessment. They also assess immune function, hormone levels, and other physiological characteristics.

Importantly, a portion of the healthy volunteers undergo multiple types of brain imaging, including structural and resting state functional MRI and diffusion tensor imaging. Some participants also undergo magnetoencephalography (MEG) scans while performing a series of cognitive tasks, a particular strength of the study. The MEG tasks tap into a range of cognitive domains relevant to mental illnesses, including attention, emotion processing, response inhibition, and working memory. By combining multiple brain imaging modalities, the study has the potential to provide unique insight into both brain structure and brain function.

Participant recruitment and data collection are ongoing. To date, the repository contains publicly available data from more than 1,000 healthy volunteers, with almost 300 in-person assessments, more than 150 MRI scans, and more than 65 MEG recordings. The study team will release data from newly enrolled volunteers in waves, allowing researchers to perform reliability and replicability analyses across different data releases.


Nugent, A. C., Thomas, A. G., Mahoney, M., Gibbons, A., Smith, J. T., Charles, A. J., Shaw, J. S., Stout, J. D., Namyst, A. M., Basavaraj, A., Earl, E., Riddle, T., Snow, J., Japee, S., Pavletic, A. J., Sinclair, S., Roopchansingh, V., Bandettini, P. A., & Chung, J. (2022). The NIMH intramural healthy volunteer dataset: A comprehensive MEG, MRI, and behavioral resource. Scientific Data, 9, Article 518. 

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