T H E   N I H    C A T A L Y S T     J A N U A R Y   –  F E B R U A R Y   2004



by Esther M. Sternberg, M.D.
INIP Program Director


The Integrative Neural Immune Program is an intramural, NIH-wide multi-institute research program in neuroscience and immunology designed to foster interdisciplinary research in the field of neural-immune interactions, the biological basis of the so-called "mind-body" connection.

The program is structured to facilitate interinstitute, interagency, university, and private-sector partnering and to address cutting-edge multidisciplinary research questions, while consolidating investments in permanent staff, highly specialized methodologies, physical space, and equipment.

Key components of the program are:

Steering committee, including representatives from each of the eight participating institutes—NIMH, NINDS, NIA, NIAID, NCI, NEI, NIDCR, and NIDA

Scientific exchanges through a lecture series, conferences, and workshops designed to highlight cutting-edge topics in this field

An active Listserve and developing website to disseminate information on program activities.

An Intramural Research Awards program to support collaborative research in neuroscience and immunology through jointly sponsored postdoctoral IRTA positions and associated research funds.

Awards are shared between collaborating laboratories of partnering institutes to provide formal training in integrative neuroscience and immunology research.

Research areas include molecular, cellular, and neuroanatomical mechanisms of neural immune interactions and systems-level analysis of communications between the central nervous, endocrine, and immune systems.

These explorations shed light on the role of the immune system in neuronal cell death and repair, neuronal development, and plasticity and the role of the nervous and neuroendocrine systems in susceptibility and resistance to autoimmune/inflammatory, infectious, and allergic diseases.

Basic research in this area has important clinical implications for understanding the pathogenesis and treatment of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, neuro-AIDS, stroke, and nerve trauma.

This research will enhance our understanding of the relationship between depression and immune diseases, and the effects of stress and belief on immune-mediated diseases, such as arthritis and allergic and infectious diseases.

Knowledge of these interactions also has relevance to neural and neuroendocrine factors in shock and tissue damage, and has therapeutic implications for biodefense.

Through partnership with the Intramural Program on Research in Women’s Health, the scope of related research extends as well to sex and gender factors in health and disease.

Esther M. Sternberg, INIP director

Craig Smith, INIP program manager

The Integrative Neural Immune Program (INIP) has launched its research awards program with funds for four interdisciplinary projects that span nine laboratories from five institutes (NINDS, NIMH, NEI, NIA, NCI).

These collaborative research projects in neuroscience and immunology encompass basic and translational research and explore the following:

Identification of diagnostic and prognostic biomarker proteins in virus-associated neurologic and hematologic diseases

Exploration of migration of hematopoietic and neural/glial progenitor cells and validation of their use in repair therapies in experimental allergic encephalomyelitis

Localization of chemokines in the eye

Distribution of HTLV-1 binding receptors at the immune synapse

The involved institutes will support jointly supervised postdoctoral fellows.

The INIP Program and its awards exemplify the interdisciplinary research teams of the future called for in the NIH director’s road map for medical research at NIH.

The experience gained from developing the INIP awards program could help in developing similar mechanisms for multi-institute support of interdisciplinary projects in other intramural research areas.

Eight participating institutes (NIMH, NINDS, NIA, NIAID, NCI, NEI, NIDCR, and NIDA) agreed to provide shared postdoctoral research fellow positions and appropriate research funds to successful applicants.

Applicants from participating institutes submitted proposals in response to a call in February 2003. An ad hoc panel reviewed the proposals and sent their evaluations to the scientific directors of participating institutes through the INIP Steering Committee.

In February 2004, INIP will issue a second call for proposals to support a next round of interdisciplinary research projects. This will be posted on the web at this site.

For more information, contact Craig Smith, INIP program manager.



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