NIMH Council Work Group on Basic Science Presents Recommendations

The Work Group formed last fall to review the NIMH basic science portfolio has concluded its work and drafted a report with recommendations to NIMH on how it can set priorities during times of decelerating budget growth.

The Work Group formed last fall to review the NIMH basic science portfolio has concluded its work and drafted a report with recommendations to NIMH on how it can set priorities during times of decelerating budget growth. Alan Leshner, PhD, who chaired the Work Group, presented its recommendations on Friday, May 14 at the meeting of National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC). Council members Peter Salovey, PhD, and Megan Gunnar, PhD, served on the Work Group. The official charge of the work group was to review the existing NIMH portfolio in molecular, cellular, behavioral neuroscience, basic behavioral and basic cognitive science, and, considering relevance to mental disorders, recommend priority areas for research funding.

Dr. Leshner explained first that the work group strongly believed that basic behavioral science and neuroscience are critical to the NIMH mission. He added that the work group focused their review on areas they determined are in need for increased emphasis, new research tools, areas in need of refocus, and areas that could be funded by other institutes.

Those areas in need of increased emphasis by NIMH include: emotion and the interaction of cognition and emotion; human and animal development that has relevance to mental illness; social interaction, including support for the current portfolio as well as the integration of social processes and behaviors with brain functioning in humans and animals; neural circuits, sex/gender differences and mechanisms and intracellular signal interaction.

Those areas in need to refocus include: aspects of learning and memory, particularly the integration of learning and memory in terms of brain and behavior; sleep; circadian biology; stress, which should focus more on chronic stressors and how different forms may differ in their behavior or biological consequences; neurotransmitter-signaling systems; prejudice and stereotyping, to encourage more transparent relevance to mental health issues.

Those areas the work group felt could be accomplished better at a separate institute include: visual and other primary sensory perception and motor processes; metabolic/thermoregulation; and characterization of normal developmental processes or aging without a clear relevance to mental or behavioral disorders.