Stimulating Neuroscience Research

Scientists are applying their brainpower to study the most complex human organ.

The next frontier of biomedical research may be understanding the three-pound organ in our heads that produces our thoughts, emotions, movements, and personalities — the very features that make us who we are. The brain is an incredibly complex structure, made up of billions of neurons and other cells connected in an intricate network to one another and to all the different parts of the body. And IRP researchers are working diligently to figure out how it all functions.

Neuroscience research recently received a momentous injection of enthusiasm with the launch of the Human Connectome Project in 2009 and the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative in 2013. However, the IRP’s history of studying the nervous system goes back much further.

Our scientists have made some of the field’s most important discoveries, such as showing that nerve cells recycle the chemicals they use to communicate with one another, organizing some of the first clinical trials of lithium to treat bipolar disorder, identifying the two pathways for visual information in the brain, and demonstrating the first successful treatment for childhood schizophrenia. More recently, IRP investigators have found a key neurological regulator of social memory, discovered a potential method of identifying individuals who will develop Alzheimer’s disease before they have detectable symptoms, improved data analysis techniques for measures of brain activity, and developed compounds that could reduce the risk of addiction in pain patients taking prescription opioid medications.

Today, more than 150 IRP laboratories across a dozen NIH Institutes and Centers are performing crucial work in the basic, translational, and clinical neurosciences. The IRP’s ability to bring together researchers with a diverse variety of expertise has facilitated the kind of interdisciplinary research needed to solve the riddles of the nervous system. Moreover, because of the brain’s incredible complexity, such research would not be possible without the wide array of resources provided by the IRP, including access to advanced neuroimaging, microscopy, high-performance computing, and other technologies. The NIH also invested in a new building — the John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center — dedicated specifically to neuroscience research. IRP researchers performing neuroimaging work receive support from the Scientific and Statistical Computing Core (SSCC), which helps to create and apply new data analysis techniques and provide instruction on how to use them.

The IRP’s dedication to neuroscience research promises to produce remarkable advances in human understanding of the brain and nervous system. Areas of active investigation in this area include:

  • Biology the neuron
  • Biophysics of ion channels and receptors
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Neural development and plasticity
  • Brain imaging
  • Clinical studies of neurodegenerative conditions, stroke, psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and chronic pain

Explore these pages for more information about the past, present, and future of IRP neuroscience research:

Check out all 12 of the domains in which we are Accelerating Science to learn about how IRP scientists are tackling important biomedical challenges.

This page was last updated on Wednesday, January 12, 2022