Neurosciences and mental health remit and scope

The Neurosciences and Mental Health Board funds research into neurosciences, mental health and disorders of the human nervous system. This is underpinned by fundamental research with relevance to human health or the underlying mechanisms of disease.

We fund high quality, novel research across the spectrum of neurosciences and mental health addressing themes of our strategic plan ‘resilience, repair and replacement’ and ‘living a long and healthy life’ as set out in Research Changes Lives.

Broadly, our portfolio is broken down as follows:

  • Neurodegeneration
  • Clinical neurology and neuroinflammation
  • Mental health
  • Addictions and Substance Misuse
  • Behavioural and learning disorders
  • Cognitive and behavioural neuroscience and cognitive systems
  • Sensory neuroscience, vision and hearing
  • Neurobiology and neurophysiology
  • Underpinning support such as neuroimaging technology, brain banking and neuroinformatics
  • CFS/ME (through population & systems medicine)


The work that we fund on neurodegeneration covers a number of conditions including dementias, prion diseases, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, all forms of motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis.

You can read about why neurodegenerative diseases are of strategic importance to us in our Spotlight on: Neurodegenerative diseases: dementia.

We participate in international, multipartner networks such as the EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND) and Centres of Excellence Network in Neurodegeneration (CoEN) and we work with other organisations such as the Wellcome Trust to facilitate neurodegenerative research.

We have recently created a UK Dementias Platform under our ‘Stratified Medicine for Patient Benefit’ initiative on age-related neurodegenerative disease and the dementias. The platform brings together many of the UK’s best-characterised cohorts to create a unique single research platform for the investigation of dementia.

The MRC has rich history of funding research into prion diseases (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans) that relate to human health, from basic biological studies to applied clinical research, epidemiology and risk assessment. The MRC Prion Unit in London is the UK’s major strategic research investment in this area.

Clinical neurology and neuroinflammation

We cover all aspects of clinical neurology research, including stroke, epilepsy, neuromuscular disease and neuroinflammatory conditions.

There are many neuropathological disorders were it is hypothesised that inflammation or immunological pathways may contribute to disease. We encourage interdisciplinary collaborations that build on the UK strengths in neurosciences, inflammation and/or immunology research to advance our understanding and to develop therapeutic approaches in neuroinflammatory conditions.

We held a neuroinflammation workshop in January 2014 to bring together early career researchers in the field and to identify cross cutting themes and opportunities for collaboration.

Additionally, we have contributed €1.2 M towards the ERA-NET call for joint proposals in neuroinflammation to build interdisciplinary networks and consortia across Europe, and to add value to existing UK expertise and resources in neuroscience, neurology and psychiatry.

We run a number of joint fellowship schemes with research charities in the area of clinical neurology.

Mental health

The mental health research that we fund includes clinical, developmental, genetic and neuropharmacological aspects of poor mental health and the pathways to mental illness and wellbeing. A comprehensive review of mental health research (PDF, 1.01MB) in the UK was published by MRC in May 2010.

As part of the review, a number of recommendations were identified to be addressed by the UK research community in the next five to 10 years. The recommendations set out the ambition to provide a greater focus on the prevention of mental disorders based on better understanding of causes, risk levels and new approaches to early preventive interventions. In addition, the recommendations challenged researchers to accelerate research and development to provide new, more effective treatments for mental illness, and to develop methods to implement them more rapidly.

We have decided that the MRC will concentrate on:

  • Research into the biological mechanisms of mental health
  • Experimental medicine for mental health
  • Population based approaches to identifying the risk factors for poor mental health and the determinants of mental wellbeing
  • Increasing the flow of trainees into mental health research and building human capacity

The NIHR Clinical Research Network: Mental Health provides infrastructure that allows high-quality clinical mental health research to take place in the NHS. The network will help researchers to set up clinical studies quickly and provides a resource for incorporating patient involvement in research design – the FAST-R service. In partnership with the network, we have developed a searchable database of population cohorts to provide a data discovery resource for researchers who wish to carry out population studies of mental health.

Addictions and Substance Misuse

We are interested in the neurobiology of compulsive addictive behaviours and substance misuse and behaviours, such as impulsivity, that might lead to addiction.

We also fund research on alcohol misuse, and whether or not this is addictive behaviour. Other behavioural ‘addictions’, such as to food, might be considered by the Population and Systems Medicine Board depending on the focus.

Major MRC investments in this area include:

  • MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge
  • MRC Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre
  • MRC/Wellcome Trust, Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute
  • MRC Clinical Sciences Centre (CSC)
  • MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit

Behavioural and learning disorders

We consider research on conditions associated with behavioural and learning disabilities such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the autism spectrum and intellectual disabilities

Our portfolio in this area includes a number of strategic investments relevant to the above, including:

  • The MRC Centre for Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry at King’s College London
  • The MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University
  • The MRC / Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge

Cognitive and behavioural neuroscience and cognitive systems

We support medically-relevant areas of cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, cognitive neuroscience and cognitive systems. We also fund computational neuroscience research. We fund research into normal cognitive development if it is in the context of neuropsychological approaches that have potential medical relevance.

Strategic investments relative to cognitive and behavioural neuroscience include:

  • The MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge – one of the UKs major research investments in the area
  • The MRC/Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, at the University of Cambridge

Sensory neuroscience, vision and hearing

We are interested in all areas of sensory neuroscience including visual and auditory processing and sensory degeneration (e.g. in hearing and visual disorders). We also fund research that addresses strategies for regeneration and rehabilitation of sensory disorders.

The MRC Institute of Hearing Research, with groups in Nottingham and Glasgow, is the UK’s major strategic research investment in this area.

Neurobiology and neurophysiology

We support research in neurobiology and neurophysiology that has relevance to human health or the underlying mechanisms of disease. This includes basic and developmental neurobiology, neurophysiology, neuropharmacology, synaptic plasticity, neurodevelopmental disorders, pain, anaesthesia, sleep and fatigue.

Major MRC investments in this area include:

  • The MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s College London
  • A number of programmes within the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, London; the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge; and the MRC National Institute for Medical Research, London.

Underpinning support such as neuroimaging technology, brain banking and neuroinformatics

We fund a number of areas that provide the underpinning support for our research and researchers. We welcome applications that aim to use these technologies and infrastructures to further our understanding of the brain in health and disease.

Imaging technology

The MRC supports several programmes that utilise imaging technologies such as positron emission tomography (PET), functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG), to elucidate neuronal and brain function in animals and human subjects. We have funded the UK MEG community to create a network to share technical expertise across the nine MEG sites in the UK.

Our funding in this area forms part of a wider drive to boost translational neuroscience research using PET.

Brain and tissue banking

The MRC has established an independent, coordinated UK network of brain tissue banks. The UK Brain Banks Network provides high-quality brain tissue to scientists and clinicians to enable them to carry out cutting-edge research in neurosciences.


The field of neuroinformatics combines neuroscience research with that from the physical and informational sciences. The MRC currently funds the UK’s subscription to the International Neuroinformatics Coordinating Facility (INCF). A UK National Node has been established, which plans ew initiatives and reviews neuroinformatics training and capacity building across the UK. The node is jointly funded by the MRC, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Science contacts

If you have a query about scientific aspects of your research proposal, please contact the programme manager shown below against your scientific area:

Programme Manager for Cognition and Developmental Disorders

Including: Cognitive systems, behavioural neuroscience, cognitive development & neurodevelopmental disorder


  • MRC Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge
  • MRC Institute of Hearing Research, Nottingham
  • Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, Edinburgh (RCUK Life Long Health & Wellbeing centre)
  • MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders, KCL

Programme manager for Neuronal Function

Including Neurobiology, neurophysiology & computational neuroscience synaptic plasticity, neuroinformatics, pain, anaesthesia, sleep & fatigue, developmental neurobiology, brain and tissue banking

Units/Centres/International initiatives

  • Francis Crick Institute, London – Neurosciences
  • MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit, Oxford 
  • ERA-NET Neuron
  • MRC Brain Bank Network

Programme Manager for Neurological Disorders

Including Neurodegeneration, clinical neurology, sensory neuroscience spinal repair, neuroinflammation & neuroimmunology

Programme Manager for Mental Health & addiction

Including clinical psychology


  • MRC Centre for Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry, KCL
  • MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, Cardiff

Programme Manager for Dementia Initiatives

Units/Centres/International initiatives

  • UK Dementia Research Institute
  • LMB Neuroscience, Cambridge
  • MRC Centre for Translational Research in Neuromuscular Disease, UCL and Newcastle
  • EU Joint Programming initiative in neurodegeneration (JPND), including JPsustaiND
  • Network of Centres of Excellence in Neurodegeneration (CoEN)

Science Manager - Dementias Platform UK and Neurodegeneration

International Initiatives

  • EU Joint Programming initiative in neurodegeneration (JPND)
  • Network of Centres of Excellence in Neurodegeneration (CoEN)


Programme Manager for methodology and clinical research

Head of Neurosciences and Mental Health