NIH – BRAIN Initiative: Targeted BRAIN Circuits Projects- TargetedBCP (R01 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)

April 30, 2018 by School of Medicine Webmaster

The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. By accelerating the development and application of innovative technologies, researchers will be able to produce a new dynamic picture of the brain that, for the first time, will show how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space. It is expected that the application of these new tools and technologies will ultimately lead to new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders.

NIH is one of several federal agencies involved in the BRAIN Initiative. Planning for the NIH component of the BRAIN initiative is guided by the long-term scientific plan, “BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision,” which details seven high-priority research areas and calls for a sustained federal commitment of $4.5 billion over 12 years. This report can be found at This FOA and other BRAIN Initiative FOAs are based on careful consideration by the NIH of the recommendations of the BRAIN 2025 Report, and input from the NIH BRAIN Multi-Council Working Group (MCWG, Roster). Information about meetings of the MCWG are available at

In addition to the National BRAIN initiative, the NIH continues to have a substantial annual investment in neuroscience research. The Institutes and Centers contributing to the NIH BRAIN Initiative support those research efforts through investigator-initiated applications as well as through specific FOAs. Potential applicants to this FOA are strongly encouraged to contact Scientific/Program staff if they have any questions about the best FOA for their research.

To enable rapid progress in development of new technologies as well as in theory and data analysis, the BRAIN Initiative encourages collaborations between neurobiologists and scientists from statistics, physics, mathematics, engineering, and computer and information sciences; and NIH welcomes applications from investigators in these disciplines.

NIH encourages BRAIN Initiative applications from investigators that are underrepresented in the biomedical, behavioral, or clinical research workforce (see data at and the most recent report on

Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering). Such individuals include those from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, those with disabilities, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The BRAIN Initiative will require a high level of coordination and sharing between investigators. While this FOA does not use a cooperative agreement mechanism, it is expected that BRAIN Initiative awardees will cooperate and coordinate their activities after awards are made by participating in Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) meetings and in other activities.

This FOA is related to the Recommendations in Section III. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 of the Final Report ( of the BRAIN working group. Specifically, this FOA solicits applications that will address the recommendations on “Maps at Multiple Scales”, “The Brain in Action”, “Demonstrating Causality”, “Identifying Fundamental Principles” and “From BRAIN Initiative to the Brain” (Section III Implementation: Goals, Deliverables, Timelines and Costs, Parts 2 3, 4, 5 and 7) of the Final Report.

Integrated Approaches Funding Opportunities

This FOA is one of a family of “Integrated Approaches” NIH BRAIN FOAs that range from small or exploratory, targeted brain circuits projects with specific research deliverables (R21, R01) to large, team-research projects with exploratory aims (U01) or with extensive and elaborated goals and a 5-10 year horizon of discovery (U19).  In each case, the FOAs are guided by BRAIN 2025 A Scientific Vision: “The Application of Integrated Technologies to Study Fundamental Questions in Neuroscience: Numerous long-standing problems in brain science will benefit dramatically from the integrated experimental approach made possible by the BRAIN Initiative.” Potential applicants are encouraged to visit the NIH BRAIN Initiative website for information and guidance

All FOAs in this family of initiatives emphasize the use of cutting-edge methods of activation and recording to understand the behavior of circuits at cellular and sub-second levels of spatial and temporal resolution; that is, at the level of the functional units of circuits.  All FOAs welcome basic research using human or non-human animal subjects.  However, there is a specific FOA for neurobiology research involving research opportunities employing invasive neural recording (Research Opportunities Using Invasive Neural Recording and Stimulating Technologies in the Human Brain). This family of initiatives also seeks advances in theory and/or analytics, and has a requirement of a data standards and management plan, as well as a data dissemination plan to facilitate use of the results by the research community.

Targeted Brain Circuits Projects

The primary goal of this FOA is to solicit research projects using innovative, methodologically-integrated approaches to understand how circuit activity gives rise to mental experience and behavior.  The activity of neural circuits is the substrate of cognitive processes such as perception, attention, reasoning, intention, decision-making, and emotion. These internal activities are translated into patterns of activation that support simple motor behaviors, as well as more complex behaviors such as navigation and communication. Dysfunction of these large systems of neurons due to disease, injury, or developmental anomaly is the basis of neural and mental disorders. A mission of the NIH BRAIN Initiative is to understand how large scale neural systems contribute to cognitive and neurological function in both health and disease.

Targeted Brain Circuit Project R01 awards will support an individual laboratory or a small multi-PD/PI group.  Supported projects will reflect the NIH BRAIN Initiative interests in the application of cutting-edge methodologies in the service of understanding brain circuit function at cellular and sub-second levels of resolution in ethologically relevant behaviors.  Applications should offer specific, feasible research goals as endpoints within a 5-year term.

The proposed studies should relate to at least one of the seven major topic areas of the BRAIN 2025 report:

  1. Discovering diversity: Identify and provide experimental access to the different cell types to determine their roles in the context of circuit function.
  2. Maps at multiple scales: Generate structural and functional circuit diagrams that can span resolution from synapses to the whole brain.
  3. The brain in action: Produce a dynamic picture of the functioning brain by developing and applying improved methods for large-scale monitoring of neural activity.
  4. Demonstrating causality: Link brain activity to behavior with precise interventional tools that change neural circuit dynamics.
  5. Identifying fundamental principles: Produce conceptual foundations about circuit dynamics and functional connectivity for understanding the biological basis of mental processes through development of new theoretical and data analysis tools.
  6. Advancing human neuroscience: Develop innovative technologies to understand brain circuits and ensembles of circuits that inform understanding of the human brain and mechanisms for treating its disorders.
  7. From BRAIN Initiative to the brain: Integrate new technological and conceptual approaches produced in Goals #1-6 to discover how dynamic patterns of neural activity are transformed into cognition, emotion, perception, and action in health and disease.

Research Objectives

Applicants should seek to demonstrate how new and advanced experimental capabilities, integrated methodology, and multidisciplinary expertise can be used to transform the general understanding of neural information processing within the context of specific systems or circuits. This FOA instructs applicants and reviewers that projects more adventurous and innovative than traditional NIH applications are encouraged. Experimental goals should focus on questions of fundamental neurobiology that informs how the normal nervous system works, and can include natural and experimental perturbations that provide mechanistic tests about circuit functions.  Projects must include a quantifiable behavior, or behavior of a well-defined neural system. Approaches must offer to identify, record, and/or manipulate identified circuits involved in the behavior with sufficient coverage to capture circuit level dynamics and mechanisms beyond individual cells or synapses. Model-driven experimental design and/or computational approaches should be used to frame mechanistic questions about circuit functions. Results must include a predictive model at a computational or conceptual level of understanding. Multi-scale approaches, from biophysics to social contexts, are allowed as long as they include an understanding of mechanisms at the meso-scale, circuit level. Multiple species are encouraged where fundamental principles can be revealed with comparative approaches. The list below includes representative, but not exhaustive, examples of topics that could be considered responsive to this FOA.

  • Innovative approaches to understand network coding of sensory information in response to naturalistic inputs and perceptual contexts.
  • Innovative approaches and new paradigms for identifying and understanding nocioception and pain in the context of circuit mechanisms of the central nervous system.
  • New paradigms to assess motor coding during quantifiable behaviors in real or virtual environments.
  • Novel approaches to understand neural circuitry associated with well-defined social behaviors.
  • Dynamic changes in functional circuit connectivity underlying the brain’s ability to store information and to learn new behaviors.
  • Distributed circuits that contribute to the coordination of motivational states and reward behavior.
  • New approaches to capture and assess information processing across brain regions during memory consolidation, memory retrieval, spatial/relational processing, attention, or planning.
  • Approaches to assess distributed representations and the information processing underlying advanced mental processes such as decision making, numerical cognition, reasoning, and metacognition.
  • Empirical and analytical approaches to understand how behavioral states are emergent properties of the interaction of neurons, circuits, and networks.
  • Research to advance principles of circuit function and neural systems in the central nervous system that regulate homeostasis, including biorhythms, and the balance of temperature, respiratory, energy and metabolic functions.
  • Research for mechanistic understanding of circuits that spans stages of development.

Applications for the study of specific disease mechanisms, or specific disease therapeutics and treatments will be considered nonresponsive to this BRAIN Initiative FOA.  While fundamental basic research often generates insights relevant to disorders of the nervous system, this FOA is not intended to stimulate research that is explicitly disease-related.  Studies for the investigation of specific diseases and disorders should be directed to the appropriate NIH Institutes. Applications must apply NIH standards of experimental and publication rigor (, should strive to promote ethnic, racial, gender and career stage diversity of the research teams, and must comply with NIH policy on reporting disaggregated sex-based data and other consideration of sex as a biological variable as elaborated in NOT-OD-15-102, NOT-OD-15-103 and NOT-OD-16-031.  The NIH BRAIN Initiative will not accept applications under this announcement that include clinical trials (

Studies of human neuroscience that utilize invasive neural recording are non-responsive and will be withdrawn . Invasive studies of human neuroscience should consider the BRAIN Initiative FOAs for Research Opportunities in Humans (see

Applicants are strongly encouraged to consult the Scientific/Research Contact listed below to discuss the alignment of their proposed work with the goals of this FOA and the BRAIN Initiative Program.

Deadlines:  June 3, 2018 (letters of intent – check this for subsequent deadlines); July 3, 2018; November 6, 2018; July 3, 2019; November 6, 2019; July 1, 2020; November 10, 2020 (full proposals)


Filed Under: Funding Opportunities