NSF issues awards to advance a national research infrastructure for neuroscience


Credit: Cornell University

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has made 17 Next Generation Networks for Neuroscience (NeuroNex) awards to aid the research community as it pursues one of its grandest challenges: understanding the brain.

These projects will support the development of innovative, accessible and shared capabilities and resources, as well as theoretical frameworks and computational modeling to advance neuroscience research.

NSF's NeuroNex awards will bring together researchers across disciplines with new technologies and approaches, yielding novel ways to tackle the mysteries of the brain. Befitting its multidisciplinary approach to research, the NeuroNex program involves participation from multiple NSF directorates. The overall goal of this activity is to establish a coherent national infrastructure to enhance our understanding of brain function across organizational levels and a diversity of species.

"Through the development of advanced instrumentation to observe and model the brain, we're closer to our goal of building a more complete knowledge base about how neural activity produces behavior," said Jim Olds, NSF assistant director for Biological Sciences. "NeuroNex seeks to take that progress forward, by creating an ecosystem of new tools, resources, and theories. Most importantly, NeuroNex aims to ensure their broad dissemination to the neuroscience community. With these awards, NSF is building a foundation for the next generation of research into the brain."

NeuroNex is one element of Understanding the Brain, NSF's multi-year effort to enable a scientific understanding of the full complexity of the brain. Through Understanding the Brain, NSF participates in the national Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, an alliance of federal agencies and other partners seeking to enhance our understanding of the brain.

Nine of the new awards are for NeuroNex Neurotechnology Hubs, which will focus on the development, refinement and dissemination of innovative neurotechnologies. These hubs will provide:

  • Novel transgenic and molecular approaches to measure and manipulate circuit activity.
  • Novel instrumentation and genetic approaches for imaging structure and dynamics of neural circuits.
  • New materials and devices for large-scale electrical recordings of neural activity.

Two of the awards are for NeuroNex Theory Teams, which will advance theoretical and computational frameworks for understanding the brain. Both of the awarded teams will focus on developing novel conceptual tools to decipher how the structure and dynamics of neurons give rise to behavior. The teams will work in concert with the Neurotechnology Hubs. Each of these eleven awards is for up to $2 million per year, for up to five years.

In addition, NSF issued six smaller NeuroNex Innovation awards, focused on developing potentially revolutionary, early-stage tools that can be integrated with other NeuroNex projects. All NeuroNex awards will also support workforce training opportunities. The complementary nature of the technologies and the mutual synergies between the technologies and the theories hold the promise of ushering in new ways of conducting neuroscience research.

The award titles, principal investigators and sponsor institutions are listed below.

NeuroNex Neurotechnology Hub awards:

  • Optical technologies for large scale, noninvasive recording of neural activity: Chris Xu, Cornell University
  • Live imaging of the C. elegans connectome: Oliver Hobert, Columbia University
  • Miniaturized open source devices for calcium imaging, electrophysiology and real-time control of neural activity: Peyman Golshani, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Integrated circuit cracking (ICC) with linked tools for diverse systems: Karl A. Deisseroth, Stanford University
  • Advancing neuronal and genetic approaches to animal behavior research: Yehuda Ben-Shahar, Washington University
  • Multimodal Integrated Neural Technologies (MINT) – Connecting physiology to functional mapping: Euisik Yoon, University of Michigan Ann Arbor
  • Nemonic: Next generation multiphoton neuroimaging consortium: Spencer Smith, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Bioluminescence for optimal brain control and imaging: Christopher Moore, Brown University
  • Enhanced resolution for 3DEM analysis of synapses across brain regions and taxa: Kristen Harris, University of Texas at Austin

NeuroNex Theory Teams awards:

  • Columbia University theoretical neuroscience center: Laurence F. Abbott, Columbia University
  • Inferring interactions between neurons, stimuli and behavior: Kresimir Josic, University of Houston

NeuroNex Innovation awards:

  • Southwest Magnetogenetics Project (SoMa): Jacob Robinson, Rice University
  • Towards automatic analysis of multi-terabyte cleared brains: Joshua Vogelstein, Johns Hopkins University
  • A national resource for mesoscale and connectomic brain mapping: Narayanan (Bobby) Kasthuri, University of Chicago
  • Behavioral technologies: Adam Kepecs, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  • Chemical and genetic methods to measure and manipulate neurons with light: Evan Miller, University of California, Berkeley
  • Voltage to Light Transducers (VoLT) collaborative: Francois St. Pierre, Baylor College of Medicine


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