Understanding the brain is recognized as one of the main challenges faced by modern biology. It is expected that advances in this area will have immense ethical, cultural and social consequences since many aspects of human life will probably have to be re-considered once a comprehensive understanding of our brain is attained. Neurological diseases, particularly those associated with neurodegeneration, are becoming a major health problem in developed countries. Pharmaceutical companies invest a substantial part of their budget in the search for drugs that ameliorate pain or the devastating effects of mental disorders or neurodegeneration. However, little progress can be expected in these fields without a substantial increase in our knowledge on the basic functions of the nervous system. Finding solutions to the enigmas that both mental activity and brain diseases represent will expectedly improve human quality of life, social interactions and strategies for education. With the proposed research programme, the INA expects to significantly contribute to this endeavour through the generation of basic knowledge regarding the structure, development and physiology of the nervous system.

The research activity proposed here corresponds to themes of fundamental importance for an understanding of the biology of the brain. This is harmonized in 5 subprojects. An additional subproject will constitute a training programme of excellence under which a total of 10 select European students will be fully supported for their training period up to completion of their PhD degrees. In addition, young talented European postdocs could also benefit from this initiative. The investigators included in the Research Team have an ample and proven experience in the proposed themes. The team engages a substantial proportion of the INA members, reflecting the INA's aim to significantly extend the development of the most competitive aspects of its current activities. The core idea is to foster an experimental approach to innovative, frontier problems in neuroscience that the individual groups, in spite of their proven competence in a specific field, could not tackle independently. Fortunately enough, all the groups involved in this programme are in the same Institute, making unnecessary the harmonization of a network. Therefore, the final purpose is to achieve a world-class multidisciplinary environment in which the most pressing questions of brain research can be addressed.

These objectives will be attained by developing the following interrelated subprojects: