NIH 1998 Almanac/The Organization/NINDS/
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Major Divisions
The institute is organized as five divisions: convulsive, infectious, and immune
disorders; fundamental neuroscience and developmental disorders; stroke, trauma, and
neurodegenerative disorders; and extramural activities for support and coordination. A
division of intramural research conducts laboratory and clinical research in NIH
Division of Convulsive, Infectious and Immune Disorders
The division stimulates and supports wide-ranging research on neurological illnesses,
including infectious and immune disorders, epilepsy, neuromuscular disorders, and sleep.
The Epilepsy Branch encourages research to prevent epilepsy and improve its diagnosis
and treatment. Research is supported on convulsive and paroxysmal disorders of the nervous
system, including narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. The branch administers an
extensive antiepileptic drug development and monitoring program.
Research on infectious diseases includes "slow virus" diseases, encephalitis,
meningitis, and the neurological aspects of AIDS. Research emphasizing neuroendocrinology
and the neurological basis of pain is also supported. Research on immunological diseases
includes demyelinating disorders such as multiple sclerosis, and neuromuscular disorders
such as myasthenia gravis and immune-mediated (Guillain-Barre) neuropathies. Research on
other neuromuscular disorders includes studies of the muscular dystrophies and other
myopathies, and the other major peripheral neuropathies.
Division of Fundamental Neuroscience and Developmental Disorders
The division supports research aimed at acquiring broad, fundamental new knowledge
about the nervous system. Grant applications are accepted on fundamental cellular,
molecular, and systems neuroscience including neural structure and function, and in basic
disciplines such as neuronal cell biology, neuroanatomy, neurochemistry, neurophysiology,
developmental neurobiology, and neurogenetics. The division also supports research on
developmental disorders including cerebral palsy and other motor disorders, mental
retardation and learning disorders, autism and behavioral disorders, and birth defects.
Division of Stroke and Trauma
The division supports basic and clinical research on stroke and cerebral ischemia,
injury to the head and spinal cord, and a broad range of neurological disorders of adults
and the aged. Alzheimers disease and other dementias, Huntingtons disease, and
amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are division responsibilities, as are studies of migraine,
brain tumor, and chronic back pain. Basic research includes such topics as regeneration,
plasticity, cell death (apoptosis and necrosis), cell cycle regulation, and cell biology
of neurons, glia, and cerebral endothelium. Clinical research includes development of
neural prostheses to extend function in patients with spinal cord injury or other
neurologic impairment, clinical trials of surgical and pharmacological interventions for
cerebrovascular disease, the use of hypothermia to treat severe traumatic brain injury,
and pharmacological and transplantation studies to treat Parkinsons disease.
Attention is given to new imaging techniques (PET, fMRI, NRS) that allow precise anatomic
and functional study of the brain after stroke, trauma, or disease.
Stroke research encompasses all aspects of cerebrovascular disorders. Of high priority
are investigations into causes and neurological consequences of embolic and hemorrhagic
stroke, and mechanisms of secondary damage to nervous tissue. The division encourages
research on injury to the head, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. Major goals are to
find ways to promote regeneration of damaged nerve tissue, and to restore function after
Research activities in the neurodegenera-tive disorders include studies of the
physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, anatomy and cellular biology, pathology, genetics,
and epidemiology of these diseases in humans and relevant animal models. Of particular
interest are studies of neural plasticity, trophic factors that promote neuronal survival,
biology of stem cells of the nervous system, and tissue implantation.
Tumor research focuses on the migratory and proliferative capacities of astrocytes and
precursor cells, as well as unique molecular properties of glioma. Research on neural
prostheses has yielded motor prostheses to restore hand and arm function in paralyzed
individuals; in addition, devices to assist in standing and bowel and bladder control are
Division of Extramural Activities
The division provides administrative support and coordination for the institutes
research grant, research training, and research contract activities including the SBIR
(Small Business Innovation Research) and the STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer)
programs. The division directs and carries out scientific and technical merit review of
proposals for research contracts, program projects, clinical research centers, special
research grants such as multi-institutional clinical trials, and career development and
research training. Management services for research grants and contracts are provided.
The division coordinates training and career development of young investigators,
including predoctoral fellowships for minority students and students with disabilities.
Also offered are mentored research scientist development awards that foster the
development of neurosciences research faculty at historically black colleges and
Opportunities include institutional and individual training awards as well as support
through research development awards, awards for reentry into the neurological sciences, an
integrated clinical and research career development program for physicians that begins
during residency, and research supplements for underrepresented minorities and individuals
with disabilities. New career development awards focus on patient-oriented research for
clinically trained individuals.
Division of Intramural Research
The division conducts basic and clinical research in neurological and related
disciplines. Notable achievements have included drug therapies for debilitating
neurological diseases such as parkinsonism and new techniques to help scientists better
understand how the brain and nervous system function. Major research advances in
neurovirology, neurochemistry and neuroimmunology have also come from the division.
NINDS scientists continue to explore central nervous system disorders such as
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that appear to be slow infections caused by transmissible
viruslike agents. These agents are unique in some respects, but in others exhibit
classical viral properties. Research focuses on delineating the agents chemical,
biological and genetic nature, and on learning the nature of disease pathogenesis.
Inherited disorders of lipid metabolism such as Gauchers, Niemann-Pick,
Fabrys, Krabbes, and Tay-Sachs are studied. This work includes biochemical and
diagnostic studies, carrier identification, and genetic counseling. Studies on the
molecular basis of the diseases have reached a new frontier; enzyme replacement therapy
has been successfully developed for patients with Gauchers. Gene replacement is also
being explored for patients with this and other metabolic disorders.
Many research projects in computed tomography advance the clinical applications of the
technique as well as provide scientists with a wealth of valuable research data. In other
imaging work, studies with the PET scanner have shown a relationship between glucose
uptake and brain tumor growth. This scanning technique allows scientists to obtain axial
transverse or coronal images of the brain. It also provides dynamic functional data such
as rates of glucose consumption in different parts of the brain measurements of the
storage, degradation, and turnover of radioactively tagged metabolites. Functional
magnetic resonance imaging is a new technique being used to study brain activity.
In the Neuroimmunology Branch, the role of immunological mechanisms as they may
relate to the cause of diseases such as multiple sclerosis is being studied. Immunological
and genetic factors are being examined in families with multiple affected members or in
twins in which either one or both twins have multiple sclerosis. The role of HTLV-I and
other retroviruses as the cause of demyelinating disease is being assessed. Finally, new
approaches to treatment of multiple sclerosis are being examined and MRI is being used as
a tool to study the natural history of the disease and to assess the efficacy of
In the Surgical Neurology Branch, NINDS scientists have undertaken intensive
studies of brain tumors, pituitary tumors, neuronal implantation, gene therapy and
immuno-toxins for brain tumors, and selected aspects of cerebrovascular disease and
The Medical Neurology Branchs human motor control section focuses on how
the brain controls voluntary movement and how these processes become deranged with
different movement disorders. Recent advances have been made in understanding of focal
dystonia and brain plasticity. The neuromuscular diseases section has made recent
important observations on postpolio syndrome, neuromuscular disorders in AIDS,
polymyositis, and neuropathies associated with paraproteinemia. The cognitive neuroscience
section conducts innovative research on human cognitive processes such as planning,
memory, and object recognition and investigates how these processes become impaired in the
presence of neurological disease or trauma. A clinical neurogenetics unit has been formed.
The Epilepsy Research Branch investigates the pathophysiology of seizure
disorders and cognitive function in individuals with epilepsy, as well as organization of
language and memory function in normal controls using positron emission tomography studies
of cerebral blood flow, metabolism, and neurotransmitters, intracerebral electrode
recordings, and magnetic resonance imaging. Animal and cellular models are used to study
excitatory and inhibitory mechanisms, the neuropharmacology of antiepileptic drugs, and
potential novel therapeutic compounds.
The Stroke Branch explores the mechanisms by which stroke risk factors operate
and analyzes mechanisms of neuronal ischemic damage at physiologic and molecular levels.
The goal of these studies is to improve the prevention and treatment of human
cerebrovascular disease. A clinical stroke research program is integrated with the basic
stroke research program.
A major research goal of the Neuroepi-demiology Branch is to understand factors
influencing the occurrence of neurological disorders in population groups. Using
epidemiological methods, the branch carries out research that may resolve clinical
problems related to the cause, prevention, and treatment of nervous system diseases. The
branch is currently involved in research on cerebral palsy, pediatric migraine, and
progressive supranuclear palsy.
Clinical Neuroscience Branch research focuses on amine neurotransmitter
mechanisms in the brain and peripheral autonomic nervous system, and on neurotransmitter
function and metabolism in various neurological disorders. In addition, the section
studies how neurotransmitters and other factors regulate the synthesis of neurotrophic
factors, as well as systems in which neurotransmitters, in particular neuropeptides, can
function as neurotrophic factors.
Exploring the design, conduct, and analysis of experimental or observational studies of
the nervous system is the work of the Biometry and Field Studies Branch. Branch
scientists develop new methods to meet the institutes needs for designing
experiments and field studies, analyzing data, and devising statistical models of
biological processes. The branch also acts as statistical coordinating center for several
continuing or planned clinical trials and for longitudinal field studies involving U.S.
and foreign scientists. In one cooperative international project, the goal is to determine
whether electroencephalography can predict if a child who has had one seizure associated
with fever will have another.
The Experimental Therapeutics Branch seeks to develop improved pharmacotherapies
for neurologic diseases. At the molecular level, scientists are working to characterize
central transmitter receptors and information transduction processes as well as to develop
pharmaceutical approaches to the selective regulation of gene expression within the
central nervous system. At the systems level, studies focus on basal ganglia function
especially in relation to dopamine receptor mechanisms and the effect of drugs that
influence motor behavior. At the clinical level, investigators attempt to elucidate
pathophysiologic mechanisms and develop novel pharmaceutical interventions for
neurodegenerative disorders that impair motor and cognitive function.
The Developmental and Metabolic Neurology Branch is concerned with inherited
disorders of metabolism such as Gauchers disease, Niemann-Pick disease, Fabrys
disease, and Tay-Sachs disease. Investigations include the identification of enzymatic and
molecular defects, devising diagnostic and carrier detection methods for genetic
counseling, and development of enzyme and gene replacement therapy for patients with these
disorders. The branch is also involved in the development of transgenic animals that mimic
human metabolic disorders. The pathogenesis of heritable disorders for which the metabolic
basis is unknown such as type C Niemann-Pick disease, is also under investigation through
"reverse genetics" including chromosomal mapping and identification of the
mutated genes and the normal gene products.
The Neuroimaging Branch focuses its research on brain tumors, movement
disorders, and stroke. Research tools used are: 1) positron emission tomography to assess
the rate of glucose utilization in brain tumors and cerebral blood flow in ischemia and 2)
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy (MRS) to assess diffusion and perfusion
(MRI) and levels of various metabolites (MRS) in brain tumors and cerebral ischemia, and
brain iron distribution in normal controls, as well as in patients affected by movement
disorders (primarily Parkinsons disease and parkinsonism).
The Laboratory of Adaptive Systems studies molecular basis of associative
memory. Laboratory observations have related the behavior of living animals to signal
processing in neuronal networks and to subcellular molecular cascades. Data have
implicated molecular and biophysical mechanisms that are conserved in molluscan and
mammalian species, which could have relevance for human physiology. Cellular analyses of
associative memory in the snail Hermissenda (Pavlovian conditioning), the rabbit
(Pavlovian conditioning), and the rat (spatial maze learning, olfactory discrimination)
revealed a sequential cascade of cellular and subcellular events during memory formation
that includes the activation of the Ca2+ and GTP-binding protein calexcitin (cp20),
and inactivation of voltage-dependent K+ channels.
Such conservation suggested that these associative memory mechanisms may provide
targets of dysfunction in Alzheimers disease. In fact, recent studies revealed
Alzheimers-specific defects of K+ channels and altered metabolism of calexcitin.
Theoretical constructs based on these memory networks have also been mathematically
described and are now being incorporated into computer-based artificial networks.
Laboratory of Central Nervous System Studies staff conducts research into the
pathogenesis of human slow viral infections, including kuru, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,
and Gerstmann-Straussler syndrome; and into the mechanisms of viral persistence and
cellular damage in such disorders as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, tropical spastic
paraparesis, and AIDS encephalopathy/dementia complex. Widely varying experimental methods
are used including in vivo and in vitro transmission studies; in situ hybridization
techniques for localization of genetic material; immunofluorescent, immunoblotting, and
immunoperoxidase techniques; and neuroepidemiologic studies and polymerase chain
reactions, cloning, and sequencing.
Research also extends to other degenerative central nervous system disorders of
undetermined etiology in humans and animals that have not yet been shown to be related to
a transmissible agent or agents: Alzheimers, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),
the ALS-Parkinson-dementia disorders of the South Pacific, and Viliuisk encephalomyelitis
among Siberian Iakut people. Recent work in Alzheimers disease has demonstrated that
amyloid protein present in Alzheimers (and Down syndrome) plaques maps to chromosome
Studies are being conducted to better delineate differential diagnosis of
Guillain-Barré syndrome, acute flaccid paralysis, transverse myelitis, poliomyelitis, and
acute axonal motor neuropathy and their etiologies.
The Laboratory of Developmental Neurogenetics applies genetic, molecular
biological and transgenic technologies towards the discovery and functional analysis of
genes relevant to the development and operation of the nervous system. The ultimate goal
is to gain a detailed understanding of functional interactions among genes that determine
growth, migration and differentiation of nerve cells. Towards this end, the laboratory has
discovered a number of genes, most of which encode transcriptional regulators with roles
in the nervous system. The focus is on genes regulating development and differentiation of
myelin-forming glial cells whose malfunction may result in dysmyelinating or demyelinating
disorders such as multiple sclerosis (section of developmental genetics), and of pigment
cells whose malfunction may result in eye abnormalities or hearing loss (mammalian
Research in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology is focused on in vitro and
in vivo models to systematically perturb stem cell differentiation and the first steps in
synapse activation. Use is made of transplantation and transgenic technology to obtain in
vivo data validating models developed in tissue culture. Work is aimed at understanding
the major control points in the developing nervous system. The results provide a
systematic technical basis for new therapies targeting CNS disease.
The Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology consists of the myelin and
brain development section and the membrane biochemistry section. Techniques of
biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology and immunology are utilized to investigate
basic and clinically related questions about biological membranes.
Primary goals of research in the myelin and brain development section are to elucidate
physiological and pathological roles of glycoproteins and glycolipids of myelin and
myelin-forming cells. The basic research focuses on functions of the myelin-associated
glycoprotein (MAG) and gangliosides in oligodendrocyte and Schwann cell differentiation
and in myelin maintenance. The clinically related research concerns molecular pathogenesis
of disorders of CNS myelin, such as leukodystrophies and multiple sclerosis, as well as
the roles of antibodies to glycoconjugates in immune-mediated peripheral neuropathies.
The membrane biochemistry section focuses on cellular signaling and its regulation. The
principal model under investigation is the adenylyl cyclase system which consists of
receptors that bind hormones or neurotransmitters, hererotrimeric G proteins that
transduce signals, and a catalyst that generates cyclic AMP which is the intracellular
second messenger. Current research emphasizes molecular mechanisms by which different
subtypes of beta-adrenergic receptors are regulated and the role of subunit dissociation
in the interaction of G proteins with adenlyly cyclase.
Basic research in the Laboratory of Molecular Medicine and Neuroscience includes
studies of the pathogenesis of human neurotropic virus infections during the course of
clinical disease and establishment of biological models using neural cell cultures.
Neurotropic viruses studied are the human polyomavirus, JCV, which causes a demyelinating
disease in immune compromised individuals, termed progressive multifocal
leukoencephalopathy (PML) and the human lentivirus HIV-1, which causes an
encephalopathy/encephalitis as a significant complication in AIDS. A second project is to
determine response of neural cells to viral gene expression at the molecular,
transcriptional level to define not only cell susceptibility to infection but gain insight
into normal cell functions. A third project is to apply the data and expertise gained from
studies utilizing human neural cells and viral gene expression to development of cell and
viral vectors for delivery of therapeutic molecules to the CNS.
Laboratory of Neurobiology investigators develop and apply innovative structural
and analytical techniques to basic problems of cell, membrane, and molecular neurobiology
in the central nervous system. Laboratory scientists are studying the secretory mechanism
underlying synaptic transmission, the mechanism of organelle movement underlying
axoplasmic transport, and the organization of neuronal cytoplasm. Also under study are
distributions of regulatory chemical elements, especially calcium and phosphorus, within
nerve cells as a function of neuronal activity, as well as hormonal regulation of
dendritic spine development in pyramidal neurons.
The Laboratory of Neurochemistry is concerned with development, structure, and
functional organization of the nervous system, with a special focus on molecular and
physiological mechanisms that are involved in establishing and maintaining the neuronal
phenotype. Many techniques ranging from the anatomic to the molecular, genetic, and
invertebrate, as well as mammalian model biological systems, are employed to study various
processes of neurogenesis, migration, differentiation and specification of neuronal
phenotype during development and maintenance of diversity and plasticity in the mature
The primary goal of scientists in the Laboratory of Neural Control is to
understand the systems of central nervous system neurons that produce and control movement
in human beings and other vertebrate animals. Much of the work is done on systems of
neurons in the spinal cord and brainstem, where the input elements (sensory afferent
supraspinal descending fibers) and output elements (the motoneurons that control specific
muscle groups) have clear functional identities.
Given these functional landmarks, it is possible to work out the organization of
interneurons that integrate descending motor command signals with afferent input before
delivering control signals to the output motoneurons. Scientists often study neural
systems that control rhythmic movements such as locomotion and breathing. An important
reason for this is that patterned rhythmic activity in motoneurons can occur in isolated
pieces of the spinal cord and brainstem. In many cases, this activity closely resembles
that found in intact animals, supporting the assumption that the same basic neural
circuits are responsible. These neural systems can be studied in much greater detail in
educed preparations than is possible in the intact organism. Several investigators are
also pursuing related mathematical and computational studies of the properties of
individual nerve cells and of systems of interconnected neurons. These studies are done
with close attention to experimental data and they are used to guide future experimental
The Laboratory of Neurophysiology has used model mammals (rats and mice) to
improve the understanding of how brain tissue forms during embryogenesis in humans. During
this complex process, several thousand cells begin to divide many times to generate the
many millions of cells composing the adult CNS. Most of the research involves three
regions of the brain: the spinal cord, hippocampus and cortex. Complementary strategies
have been devised de novo or adapted to characterize physiological correlates of major
stages in the development of these brain regions. These stages include cell division,
death, migration, differentiation, circuit and network formation about which relatively
little is yet known.
The experimental strategies include 1) fluorescence-activated cell analysis and
sorting, which permits unparalleled perspective of physiological properties expressed
by live cells identified in different stages and 2) video microscopic imaging and
high-fidelity electrical measurements of physiological properties in vitro expressed by
cells sorted at different stages. Flow cytometry provides a complete and compelling
account of developmentally relevant physiological properties expressed by all of the cells
composing these (and other) brain regions, while experiments in vitro permit detailed
investigations of their physiological roles in the context of tissue formation under
controlled experimental conditions.
Using these strategies members of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology have found that the
brains of rats (and mice) are generated in a quite stereotypical manner, which can be
recognized for further study, even after completely dissociating it into a single-cell
suspension. This may facilitate multi-disciplinary investigation of its physiological
basis during different stages of development.