Basic Neuroscience

Basic Neuroscience

Basic Research: NINDS Strategic Priorities and Principles

Excerpted from: NINDS Strategic Plan

The NINDS mission requires a balance of basic, translational, and clinical research. Physicians and scientists in academia and industry agree that basic research is essential for long-term progress against neurological diseases. Basic research seeks to understand how the nervous system develops and works and what goes wrong in disease. The private sector supports little basic neuroscience research because the return on investment in any specific line of research is unpredictable, even results that constitute major scientific advances may not yield marketable intellectual property, and the time between a basic finding and a practical application can be decades long. As a result, the NIH supports most basic medical research in the U.S. Although each NIH Institute and Center has a well-defined mission with respect to disease, several NIH components support complementary programs of basic neuroscience research that advance the missions of all. The NINDS has the largest neuroscience research budget of any NIH Institute or Center and so plays a crucial role in sustaining basic neuroscience research.

The NIH has a key role in supporting basic research to understand how the nervous system develops and operates, and what goes wrong in disease. Of all areas of research, basic research most benefits from the unfettered freedom of the research community to respond to scientific opportunity. Thus, investigator-initiated, peer-reviewed research is the foundation of the NINDS basic research program.

NINDS basic research is approximately equally divided between research on the normal development and working of the nervous system and research related to disease mechanisms. The cluster organization of the NINDS extramural program reflects the range of NINDS research. The program clusters focus on: ion channels, synapses, and neural circuits, which are the fundamental elements of the nervous system; the control of the environment of nerve cells by supporting cells; neurodegeneration, including the shared mechanisms of nerve cell death that contribute to many diseases; the role of genes in the normal and diseased nervous system; nervous system repair and plasticity, including stem cells, regeneration, and neural prostheses; and systems and cognitive neuroscience, which includes sensation, perception, movement, learning, memory, attention, thinking, and emotion. Maintaining this breadth of basic research is essential to the Institute’s mission.

The Basic Module focused on basic science research, which provides fundamental understanding of normal nervous system function and disease mechanisms.

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Importance of Fundamental Research

Back to Basics

Back to Basics: A call for fundamental neuroscience research

Back to Basics

New NINDS Funding Announcement Aims to Spur Basic Neuroscience Research

New NINDS Funding Announcement Aims to Spur Basic Neuroscience Research

Basic science: Bedrock of progress

Basic science: Bedrock of progress 

Importance of Model Systems

NINDS Supports Outstanding Projects Using Invertebrate Model Systems

Transformative basic research at NINDS: A case for invertebrate models systems

NINDS Areas of Specialization

Within the Division of Extramural Research, Program Directors are organized within a series of scientifically-related research Clusters that reflect the breadth of the research programs supported by NINDS.  Within each Cluster, Program Directors oversee the basic research activities and, in coordination with the NINDS Office of Translational Research and Office of Clinical Research, coordinate the translational and clinical research in one or more parts of the Institute's research funding program, managing a portfolio of grants and contracts and coordinating program efforts in these specifically defined areas of neuroscience research. To find contact information related to specific research, please refer to our list of Program Directors.

Channels, Synapses and Neural Circuits

Channels, synapses, and neural circuits are fundamental structural and functional elements of the nervous system. Detailed and integrated knowledge of these elements is essential for understanding how the nervous system works under normal and abnormal conditions. In recent years, remarkable progress and exciting discoveries have been made in the basic research in these areas; only few of them, however, have been directly connected to mechanisms underlying the causes of numerous neurological disorders. The major goals of our program are 1) to continue to support the ongoing basic and clinical research; 2) to foster research on particular channels, synapses, and neural circuits that have immediate medical relevance; and 3) encourage translational research that links the discoveries from basic research into medication development and therapeutic interventions for treating neurological disorders, such as epilepsy. Topics of research supported by the Channels, Synapses, and Neural Circuits cluster include neural circuit analysis, synaptic transmission, synaptic plasticity, structural analysis of neuronal membrane proteins, channelopathies, and epilepsy.  The cluster supports basic and translational research, as well as clinical trials, and facilitates multidisciplinary collaborations.

Serious Adverse Drug Reaction Research (R01)
Release Date: 2016-05-19, Contact: NINDS Funding Coordinator, [ (R01)  PAR-16-275  ]

Neural Environment

Neurological disorders may result when extra-neuronal cells are compromised, as in demyelinating and cerebrovascular diseases; when extra-neuronal cells themselves become aggressors, as in inflammatory responses within the nervous system; when cells of the nervous system become cancerous and form tumors; when viruses, bacteria, or parasites infect the cells of the nervous system; when autoimmune responses damage nerve and muscle; or when cells of the blood-brain barrier are dysfunctional. Glial cells, microvascular endothelia, and cells of hematopoetic origin are integrally involved in the normal development and/or functioning of the nervous system and play a crucial role in disease. Emerging concepts on the interaction among all of these cells hold great promise for increasing our understanding of how the nervous system works in normal and diseased states, and will broaden our perspective on how we think about the nervous system.

The Neural Environment cluster promotes translating scientific knowledge into useful diagnostic tools, research on the implementation of preventive measures, and development and delivery of targeted therapeutic agents for neurological diseases.

Research areas supported by the Neural Environment:

The disease areas supported by Neural Environment cluster include: stroke, multiple sclerosis, CNS and PNS tumors, neuro-AIDS, prion diseases, and CNS infections. The Neural Environment cluster also supports several areas of basic neuroscience research including: neuroimmunology, neurovirology, neural vascular biology, and the blood brain barrier. Our grant portfolio spans basic, translational, and some clinical research.


The Neurodegeneration cluster portfolio consists of research on adult onset neurodegenerative diseases of all types, broadly focusing on pathogenesis, treatment and prevention. Research on the normal structure and function of neural systems is also included to enable identification of intervention strategies. The role of the programmatic team is to develop, implement and manage these research programs and to promote the translation of research findings into clinical practice.  Included in the portfolio are topics such as neuronal cell death, protein misfolding, aggregation, processing, mitochondrial pathologies, epidemiological studies, genetic studies, biomarker studies, clinical studies, including deep brain stimulation and gene therapy, and translational projects that will accelerate bench-to-bedside therapies for neurodegenerative disorders.


Genetic methodologies are having a rapidly increasingly impact on studies of the normal and diseased nervous system. To date, more than 200 genes have been identified that cause or contribute to neurological disorders. It is essential that neuroscientists exploit the power of modern molecular genetics and use the information becoming available from sequencing of the human genome.

The Neurogenetics cluster supports research of genes that cause neurological disorders; molecular mechanisms through which disease genes act; animal models and in vitro techniques for studying pathways of gene function; genetically-based studies of neuronal patterning, migration, connectivity, and cognitive/behavioral function; and the genetic basis of normal neural development and function.  The cluster promotes collecting family data and applying molecular genetic methodologies for gene identification, and development of gene-based therapeutics for neurological disorders and pharmaceuticals targeted to specific gene products.  The Neurogenetics cluster also develops resources for neurogenetics research, such as tissue and information registries, atlases of gene expression and function, and mutagenesis and phenotyping methodologies.

Repair and Plasticity

Repair and Plasticity supports research in spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, recovery of function, plasticity of the nervous system, neural circuits that underlie specific behaviors, repair of the nervous system in injury and disease, stem cell biology, neural prosthesis, neuroengineering, and other means of repairing the nervous system in injury and disease.

Our Mission

To understand mechanisms of plasticity in the healthy nervous system and explore implications for repair.

To develop interventions to modify the course of injury and disease progression and improve functional outcome in individuals following injury to the nervous system.

To understand the course of degeneration and repair following spinal cord injury and brain injury on timescales ranging from seconds to years.

To understand the role of endogenous neurogenesis as well as stem and progenitor cell biology in the development and repair of the nervous system.

To promote the development of neural prosthetic devices designed to restore function after neurological injury or disease.

Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience

The Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience cluster supports research focused on higher brain functions that underlie complex behavioral phenomena such as learning, memory, attention, language, cognition, sensation/perception, movement, the wakefulness-sleep cycle, and pain. These phenomena depend on the integrated functioning of neural circuits and systems. Funded research involves human or animal subjects or computer models of neural circuits.  Research methods include non-invasive imaging of brain structure and function (e.g., EEG, MEG, PET, MRI) and advanced methods for recording neural structure and function associated with specific cognitive and behavioral processes in vivo and in vitro.