In 2022, BRAIN Initiative researchers participated in new collaborations, developed cutting edge tools, and demonstrated exceptional talent and dedication to their work that will help the neuroscience community continue to learn about the brain’s inner workings.

2022 was an exciting year for the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative – full of many events, new projects, collaborations between researchers, and scientific advancements. Here’s a recap of accomplishments and highlights from 2022, as well as a preview for what’s next for the BRAIN Initiative in 2023.

Scientific Advancements and Collaborations

Evolution and Promise of Brain Stimulation

In early January, a STAT News article featured brain stimulation with focus on NIH BRAIN Initiative-awarded work. The article emphasized that there are now dozens of projects funded through the NIH BRAIN Initiative’s investigator-device maker partnership program (Public-Private Partnerships Program), including projects focused on implantable devices for human use. Dr. Nick Langhals, program director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) Division of Translational research, was quoted in the article saying, “Many BRAIN projects are still in early stages, finishing enrollment or small feasibility studies. Over the next couple of years, scientists will begin to see some of the fruits of their labor, which could lead to larger clinical trials, or to companies developing more refined brain stimulation implants.”

Neuroethics in Intracranial Human Research

Also in January, a paper in Neuron with NIH BRAIN Initiative-funded research discussed fundamental ethical commitments of neuroscientists. The paper explains how neuroscientists can ensure that ethical safeguards are in place for patients undergoing neurosurgery. For more information about this topic, check out this article from Science that references the paper above.

Deep Brain Stimulation for Treatment-Resistant Depression

In February, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) spotlighted recent NIH BRAIN Initiative research on deep brain stimulation for treatment-resistant depression. The study, published in Biological Psychiatry, demonstrates a novel platform for deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy that targets two brain regions that seem to evoke opposite feelings (anhedonia, helplessness vs. motivation, energy) and accesses a wider brain network. This work demonstrates initial feasibility of this platform for improving treatment-resistant depression and other psychiatric disorders through personalized DBS methods.

Brain Cells That Organize Memories

A study on memory supported by the NIH BRAIN Initiative was published in March in Nature. Through this work, researchers uncovered information on how the brain forms, organizes, and recollects memories through a series of tests that showed patients film clips with distinctive transitions. Intracranial recordings from these patients demonstrated that two groups of cells increased activity as the patients watched the film clips. Patients also participated in memory tests related to the film clips to examine how the brain recalls events. The researchers behind this work hope to use it to develop therapies that treat memory disorders. You can read the NINDS press release about the study.

three images of brain with colored in sections of the brain

Experiment recording locations. Credit: Zheng et al., 2022, Nature.

Cellular Networks Shaped by Evolution

A study on cataloging the diversity of inhibitory neurons early in the developing brain was published in March in Nature. The study was led by Kavli Institute of Fundamental Neuroscience member and neuroscientist Dr. Alex Pollen. While the exact ways in which the human brain evolved is still a mystery, researchers have pinpointed some developmental changes in the primate brain that could explain it, enabling them to look more closely at the multiple developmental mechanisms for neural cell type evolution. Learn more about this project from Dr. Pollen and first author Matthew Schmitz.

Mapping Brain Changes in Alzheimer’s Disease

Over the summer, the Allen Institute, together with collaborators at UW Medicine and Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, launched findings from the Seattle Alzheimer’s Disease Brain Cell Atlas (SEA-AD) showing specific types of neurons and other brain cells that die off or change in Alzheimer’s disease. The Institute used cutting-edge techniques to categorize individual cells based on what their genes do. This approach could help identify new targets for better therapies to slow or halt the disease’s progression. This work was made possible because of the groundwork from the NIH-funded BRAIN Initiative’s Cell Census Network (BICCN). You can read more in the Allen Institute’s press release. Dr. Ngai is also featured in the Allen Institute’s video “Where does Alzheimer’s Begin?” below.

The Allen Institute’s “Where Does Alzheimer’s Begin?” video. Credit: Allen Institute, 2022.

BRAIN Initiative Cell Atlas Network and Armamentarium for Precision Brain Cell Access

In September, the NIH BRAIN Initiative launched two new projects: The BRAIN Initiative Cell Atlas Network (BICAN) and Armamentarium for Precision Brain Cell Access.

BICAN is a large global collaborative network that aims to explore and map the entire human brain and those of other mammals in detail over the next five years. BICAN builds on previous cell identification from the BICCN to characterize and map cells across the human, mouse, and monkey brains. The Allen Institute will lead one collaborative BICAN project with 17 partner research institutions from around the globe. Its primary goal is to understand the human brain’s function and structure at the cellular level, so that we can better understand, diagnose, treat, and prevent disease of the brain. For more about this project, check out the Allen Institute’s article.

The Armamentarium for Precision Brain Cell Access will use BICCN data to create new tools to help researchers study neural activity at the cellular and neural circuit levels. The project aims to create a toolkit for scientists to use to gain a deeper understanding of neural circuit function. Ultimately, the project will help uncover what mechanisms are responsible for complex behaviors and how neural circuits interact.

Events and Webinars

Brain Behavior Quantification & Synchronization (BBQS) Workshop

The NIH BRAIN Initiative hosted a workshop in early March to discuss the advances necessary to understand behavior more comprehensively. The workshop brought together innovators in sensor and data analysis; translational and basic cognitive neuroscientists conducting human and animal studies; evolutionary, behavioral, and social scientists; computational scientists; and ethicists. Two funding opportunities related to this workshop were released in October with due dates in 2023 and 2024.

circular graphic with an abstract brain circuits graphic in the center. Surroudnded by images of a human, insects, mouse, mammal, bird

Brain Behavior Quantification & Synchronization Workshop image. Credit: NIH BRAIN Initiative, 2022.

Congressional Neuroscience Caucus

In celebration of Brain Awareness Week (March 14-20), there was a virtual congressional briefing of the Neuroscience Caucus and the Biomedical Research Caucus on the importance of brain donation by request of the Brain Donor Project and the American Brain Coalition (ABC). NIH BRAIN Initiative Director Dr.  John Ngai spoke on the upcoming need for unaffected control tissue as part of the BICCN study. Additionally, the Director of the NINDS, Dr. Walter Koroshetz, spoke about the overall need for brain donation. The Brain Donor Project is an intake partner with the NIH NeuroBioBank.

Labroots 10th Annual Neuroscience Virtual Conference

Also in March, a free virtual event series from Labroots featured NIH BRAIN Initiative-specific sessions on human neuroscience and the cross-cutting impact of scientific collaboration. It featured over a dozen speakers from medical and neuroscience research institutions across the country, as well as poster sessions. The event will remain open so you can check out the webinars and posters until March 2024.

The Brain Across the Lifespan: Tools and Methodologies for Measuring the Changing Brain

This workshop connected researchers focused on varying timepoints across the lifespan and levels of resolution in different model systems and timescales to jointly explore existing and emerging tools and methods for measuring changing brain cellular identity, connectivity, and activity. It was organized by one of the NIH Institutes and Centers participating in the NIH BRAIN Initiative – the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Ngai gave closing remarks.

Demystifying the BRAIN Initiative® Program: Guidance to Potential NIDCD Applicants

As part of the free Electronic Auditory Research Seminars (EARS) series, this seminar (register for free access) profiled the BRAIN Initiative and discussed its significance to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) – another NIH Institute participating in the NIH BRAIN Initiative. The seminar included NIH BRAIN program directors and scientists, who spoke about their NIH BRAIN Initiative grants and encouraged participants to ask questions about their work. There will be another Demystifying the BRAIN Initiative® Program: Guidance to Potential NIDCD Applicants workshop in 2023—see the “Looking Ahead to 2023” section below for more details.

BRAIN Neuroethics Working Group (NEWG) Workshop on Continuing Trial Responsibilities

Dr. Ngai gave opening remarks each day during this two-day workshop by the NIH BRAIN Initiative in May. The workshop featured three panel discussions addressing research-related care needs for participants of implanted neural device trials after the trial has ended. The panels covered the current state and gaps in post-trial care and the minimum research-related post-trial care required for implanted neural device trials. Panel discussions were followed by a town hall with all stakeholders. The archived meeting can be viewed through NIH Videocast (Day 1/Day 2).

Congressional BRAIN Initiative Briefing on the Importance of Neuroethics (View Summary)
In June, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), the Dana Foundation, the International Neuroethics Society, and the Simons Foundation co-hosted a congressional briefing that featured opening remarks by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). The winners of the 2022 BRAIN Initiative Teen Challenge were highlighted and announced by ABC Chair Dr. Matthew Rizzo, the briefing moderator. The panel of speakers included Dr. Joseph J. Fins, president of the International Neuroethics Society; Dr. Jayatri Das, chief bioscientist at the Franklin Institute; and Dr. Claire Weichselbaum, Barbara Gill, Civic Science Fellow at Arizona State University.

The Congressional BRAIN Initiative Briefing on the Importance of Neuroethics. Credit: American Brain Coalition, 2022.

8th Annual BRAIN Initiative Meeting

thought bubble with abstract rainbow-colored brain inside. Text reads: The BRAIN Initiative Meeting Open Science, New Tools

8th Annual BRAIN Initiative Meeting logo. Credit: NIH BRAIN Initiative, 2022.

The 8th Annual BRAIN Initiative Meeting was held virtually over the summer and was a another huge success! The 2022 meeting had a large focus on solving tough problems with a fresh look and diverse approaches. There were three insightful plenary keynote presentations and plenty of panels and specialty sessions with thousands of participants from around the world. If you were unable to attend or missed something you would like to catch up on, you can check out the meeting summary.

The Future of Mental Health Treatments and Neuroscience Webinar

Dr. Ngai and Dr. Kafui Dzirasa participated in a conversation hosted by the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy (OSTP) that addressed how leading-edge research is uncovering how the human brain works, how changes to brain function can produce mental and neurological conditions, and who is developing tools to understand and treat these conditions. Dr. Dzirasa is a BRAIN investigator and BRAIN Multi-Council Working Group member. To watch or listen to the conversation, click on the video below or visit this link.

The Future of Mental Health Treatments and Neuroscience webinar. Credit: BRAIN Initiative, 2022.

Congressional Briefing on the Importance of BRAIN Initiative Funding
In October, Dr. Ngai was featured in a congressional briefing moderated by Dr. Justin Jordan, the vice chair of the Health Policy Subcommittee at the American Academy of Neurology. The briefing discussed how BRAIN Initiative funding is used to develop new tools to understand complex neural circuits in the brain in hopes of accelerating new cures for neurological diseases. You can watch a video of the briefing here.

Society for Neuroscience (SfN) Annual Meeting

There were a number of BRAIN Initiative-focused events at the SfN annual meeting in November, including a satellite event that showcased numerous BRAIN Initiative tools and their toolmakers. For a more robust list of the 2022 BRAIN Initiative happenings at SfN, visit this BRAIN Blog post.

Commentary and Media

Dr. Ngai’s Commentary – BRAIN 2.0: Transforming Neuroscience

In January, Dr. Ngai outlined a new era of transformative projects in Cell. Specifically, he outlined three large new projects: a comprehensive human brain cell atlas (BICAN, as described above), a whole mammalian brain microconnectivity map, and tools for precision access to brain cell types (Armamentarium for Precision Brain Cell Access, also described above). You can also check out the BRAIN Blog post on Dr. Ngai’s commentary.

Dr. Kafui Dzirasa’s Commentary – Understanding the biological basis of psychiatric disease: What’s next?

Dr. Dzirasa also provided commentary in Cell in January, along with several additional experts in psychiatric disease, to answer questions about the complexities and challenges of studying psychiatric disease in relation to the mechanisms that cause it. Dr. Dzirasa contributed to discussion on the next steps for studying and understanding these types of diseases.

Dr. Ngai’s Government Matters Interview

Dr. Ngai participated in a Government Matters interview with Mimi Geerges in July. They discussed how the NIH BRAIN Initiative began and its current scientific (and human) impact. To watch or listen to the conversation, click on the video below or visit this link.

Dr. Ngai’s Government Matters Interview. Credit: Government Matters, 2022.

New Tools

Recombinant Antibody Repository

Addgene launched a new recombinant antibody repository in March supported by funding from the NIH BRAIN Initiative. The repository helps enable the NIH BRAIN Initiative’s goal of expanding access of neuroscience tools and data to the scientific community (learn more about this Dissemination Program here). You can also check out the BRAIN Blog post on this repository launch.

Visual Behavior Neuropixels Dataset

In August, the Allen Institute released a new public dataset—the largest dataset of Neuropixels recordings collected yet. This dataset includes neural activity from dozens of brain regions, especially those involved in visual information processing. The dataset promises to help researchers understand how the brain performs complex tasks based off of what we see. You can check out the Allen Institute’s article on the dataset.

Every experimental session consisted of four major stimulus epochs: 1) an active behavior epoch during which the mouse performed the change detection task, 2) a receptive field characterization epoch during which we presented gabor stimuli and full-field flashes, 3) a passive replay epoch during which we replayed the same stimulus frame-for-frame as the mouse encountered during active behavior, but now with the lick spout removed and 4) an optotagging epoch during which we stimulated the surface of the brain with blue light to activate ChR2-expressing cortical interneurons. Credit: Allen Institute, 2022.

Neurophysiology Data Resources

In the fall, a group of NIH BRAIN Initiative researchers published an overview of their efforts to create a common language to share neurophysiology data across diverse species and recording methods. Published in eLife, the paper describes Neurodata Without Borders (NWB) tools for data management, analysis, visualization, and archiving. This work, funded in part by The Kavli Foundation, is part of an ongoing effort to enable reproduction, sharing, and reuse of neurophysiology data.  Read more about this work in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory press release.

green and blue circular pathway graphic

NWB is integrated with state-of-the-art analysis tools throughout the data life cycle. Credit: Rübel et al., 2022, eLife.

Looking Ahead to 2023

We are grateful and appreciative for all that was accomplished in 2022 and eager to see what is yet to come in 2023. There are plenty of BRAIN Initiative events to get excited about in 2023— and be sure to request a free copy of the 2023 BRAIN Initiative Calendar to save these dates and more!

  • BRAIN Circuits Program and Team Science Approaches: On February 15, 2023, there will be a virtual webinar for researchers who may have an interest in BRAIN Initiative team science and wish to learn more about how to apply to NIH U01 or U19 funding opportunities. Individuals with diverse perspectives are encouraged to apply for team science opportunities and you do not have to be a BRAIN grantee to attend the webinar. Register here!
  • Demystifying the BRAIN Initiative® Program: Guidance to Potential NIDCD Applicants: Scroll up for more about the 2022 version of this workshop, because from April 19-22, 2023, there will be another Demystifying the BRAIN Initiative® Program: Guidance to Potential NIDCD Applicants workshop at the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS) 45th Annual Meeting. Presenters will include NIDCD staff and NIH BRAIN Initiative awardees.
  • The Brain Behavior Quantification and Synchronization (BBSQ) Program Workshop: Scroll up for more information about the NIH BRAIN’s BBQS Program, as there will be another workshop coming May 2-3, 2023, on Sensor Technologies to Enhance our Understanding of Behavior. Subscribe to the NIH BRAIN Blog so you don’t miss information on this upcoming event and more!
  • 9th Annual BRAIN Initiative Meeting: Be sure to save the date for the 9th Annual BRAIN Initiative Meeting scheduled for June 12-13, 2023! More details to follow.

Looking ahead at 2023 funding, at the end of December, Congress passed the Omnibus Appropriations Bill for fiscal year (FY) 2023, which provides:

  • $47.5 billion for the NIH, which reflects a $2.3 billion increase over FY 2022, and includes $680 million for the BRAIN Initiative, an increase of $60 million over FY 2022. Read more in Ngai’s BRAIN Blog post here.
  • $2 million for the Neurology Drug Program at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which aims to focus on policy and guidance that keeps pace with scientific discovery in neuroscience, to advance the prevention and early detection of brain conditions. The American Brain Coalition (ABC) has worked closely with champions in Congress to support efforts to speed the delivery of safe and effective cures and treatments for individuals with brain and central nervous conditions.
  • $9.5 billion base funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), an increase of approximately $700 million over FY 2022.

You can stay up to date with all the latest BRAIN Initiative news, research highlights, funding opportunities, and grantee information by bookmarking our news hub. We look forward to an exciting year of neuroscience advancements in 2023!