School of Medicine

UCI researcher receives 2019 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to study learning and memory

Kevin Beier, PhD
UCI School of Medicine
Kevin Beier, PhD, assistant professor of physiology and biophysics in the School of Medicine, received a $1.5M 2019 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to study learning and memory in an effort to discover new treatments for behavioral symptoms of chronic stress and depression.

Study aimed at understanding and controlling memory as key to developing treatments for drug addiction, depression, anxiety and PTSD

Irvine, CA – October 7, 2019 – University of California, Irvine researcher Kevin Beier, PhD, assistant professor of physiology and biophysics in the School of Medicine, received a 2019 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to study learning and memory in an effort to discover new treatments for behavioral symptoms of chronic stress and depression.  Beier will receive $1.5M in funding over five years. 

Beier’s project, “Sculpting the Brain: High-Resolution Spatiotemporally-Controlled Modulation of Memories,” examines neuronal plasticity, which underlies essentially all forms of behavioral learning and is critical to survival. Certain forms of plasticity contribute to adaptive behavior and are the drivers of pathophysiological states such as drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“About ten years ago, it was shown that injection of a certain peptide inhibitor (ZIP) into the brain could erase memories stored at that site by eliminating long-term potentiation of synaptic connections, but the research did not discover how it actually worked. A major hypothesis was that it inhibited a specific protein responsible for maintaining long-term memories,” said Beier. “More recent research tested the hypothesis and found the protein had no impact on the ability of ZIP to destabilize neuronal plasticity that underlies long-term memories. This suggests ZIP works, but we don’t yet know how.  Gaining an understanding of how memories are formed, stabilized over long time periods from months to years, and destabilized has important implications for long-term memory and is at the core of our research.”

Beier aims to elucidate which synaptic proteins are affected by ZIP and then use this information to engineer a suite of molecular and viral reagents to specifically disrupt or stabilize memories in targeted cell types. The hope is that this approach will enable researchers to identify where the brain is modified by experience, and how these adaptations contribute to various behavioral disorders. Ultimately, these approaches may enable the selective modulation of the maladaptive plasticity that contributes to a variety of behavioral symptoms of chronic stress and depression.

“The molecular toolkit we are developing could substantially advance our understanding and control of learning and memory, which could have a major impact on the field of neuroscience,” said Beier.

“Each year, I look forward to seeing the creative approaches these researchers take to solve tough problems in biomedical and behavioral research,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “I am confident the 2019 cohort of awardees has the potential to advance our mission of enhancing health through their groundbreaking studies.”

In addition to engineering a suite of molecular technologies for selective modulation of neuronal plasticity, Beier’s lab will investigate how synaptic and circuit properties in the brain are modulated either by acute experiences or over time during aging.

About the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award: Part of the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award supports exceptionally creative early career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects in the biomedical, behavioral or social sciences within the NIH mission. This year, the National Institutes of Health awarded 93 grants, totaling approximately $267 million over five years, through its High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program that will fund highly innovative biomedical or behavioral research proposed by extraordinarily creative scientists. Funding for the awards comes from the NIH Common Fund; National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health; National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering; National Institute of General Medical Sciences; National Institute of Mental Health; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; National Institute on Aging; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; and National Institute on Drug Abuse.

About the NIH Common Fund: The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high-impact, trans-NIH programs. Common Fund programs are managed by the Office of Strategic Coordination in the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives in the NIH Office of the Director in partnership with the NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices. More information is available at the Common Fund website:

About the UCI School of Medicine: Each year, the UCI School of Medicine educates more than 400 medical students, as well as 200 doctoral and master’s students. More than 600 residents and fellows are trained at UC Irvine Medical Center and affiliated institutions. The School of Medicine offers an MD; a dual MD/PhD medical scientist training program; and PhDs and master’s degrees in anatomy and neurobiology, biomedical sciences, genetic counseling, epidemiology, environmental health sciences, pathology, pharmacology, physiology and biophysics, and translational sciences. Medical students also may pursue an MD/MBA, an MD/master’s in public health, or an MD/master’s degree through one of three mission-based programs: the Health Education to Advance Leaders in Integrative Medicine (HEAL-IM), the Leadership Education to Advance Diversity-African, Black and Caribbean (LEAD-ABC), and the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC). The UCI School of Medicine is accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Accreditation and ranks among the top 50 nationwide for research. For more information, visit