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Call: Towards a molecular and neurobiological understanding of mental health and illness

Type of Fund Direct Management
Description of programme
"Horizon Europe - Cluster 1 - Destination 1: Staying healthy in a rapidly changing society"

Calls for proposals under this destination are directed towards the Key Strategic Orientation KSO-D ‘Creating a more resilient, inclusive and democratic European society’ of Horizon Europe’s Strategic Plan 2021-2024. Research and innovation supported under this destination should contribute to the impact area ‘Good health and high-quality accessible health care’ and in particular to the following expected impact, set out in the Strategic Plan for the health cluster: ‘citizens of all ages stay healthy and independent in a rapidly changing society thanks to healthier lifestyles and behaviours, healthier diets, healthier environments, improved evidence-based health policies, and more effective solutions for health promotion and disease prevention’. In addition, research and innovation supported under this destination could also contribute to the following impact areas: ‘High quality digital services for all’, ‘Sustainable food systems from farm to fork on land and sea’, and ‘Climate change mitigation and adaptation’.

People´s health care needs are different, depending on their age, stage of life and socio-economic background. Their physical and mental health and well-being can be influenced by their individual situation as well as the broader societal context they are living in. Furthermore, health education and behaviour are important factors. Currently, more than 790 000 deaths per year in Europe are due to risk factors such as smoking, drinking, physical inactivity, and obesity. Upbringing, income, education levels, social and gender aspects also have an impact on health risks and how disease can be prevented. Moreover, people´s health can be impacted by a rapidly changing society, making it challenging to keep pace and find its way through new technological tools and societal changes, which both are increasing demands on the individual´s resilience. In order to leave no one behind, to reduce health inequalities and to support healthy and active lives for all, it is crucial to provide suitable and tailor-made solutions, including for people with specific needs.

In this work programme, destination 1 will focus on major societal challenges that are part of the European Commission’s political priorities, notably diet and health (obesity), ageing and demographic change, mental health, digital empowerment in health literacy, and personalised prevention. Research and innovation supported under this destination will provide new evidences, methodologies and tools for understanding the transition from health to disease. This will allow designing better strategies and personalised tools for preventing diseases and promoting health, including through social innovation approaches. Specific measures will also be developed to educate and empower citizens of all ages and throughout their life, to play an active role in the self-management of their own health and self-care, to the benefit of an active and healthy ageing. In 2022, it will also call for proposals for improving the availability and use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools to predict the risk for onset and progression of chronic diseases. Key to achieving the expected impacts is the availability and accessibility of health data from multiple sources, including real-world health data, which will require appropriate support by research and data infrastructures, AI-based solutions, and robust and transparent methodologies for analysis and reporting.

Dialogue and coordination between stakeholders and policy makers as well as integration across different settings will be needed to develop more effective cross-sectoral solutions for health promotion and disease prevention and deliver improved evidence-based health for all.

In view of increasing the impact of EU investments under Horizon Europe, the European Commission welcomes and supports cooperation between EU-funded projects to enable cross-fertilisation and other synergies. This could range from networking to joint activities such as the participation in joint workshops, the exchange of knowledge, the development and adoption of best practices, or joint communication activities. Opportunities for potential synergies exist between projects funded under the same topic but also between other projects funded under another topic, cluster or pillar of Horizon Europe (but also with ongoing projects funded under Horizon 2020). In particular, this could involve projects related to European health research infrastructures (under pillar I of Horizon Europe), the EIC strategic challenges on health and EIT-KIC Health (under pillar III of Horizon Europe), or in areas cutting across the health and other clusters (under pillar II of Horizon Europe). For instance, with cluster 2 “Culture, Creativity and Inclusive Society” such as on health inequalities, on other inequalities affecting health, or on citizens’ behaviour and engagement; with cluster 4 “Digital, Industry and Space” such as on digital tools, telemedicine or smart homes; with cluster 5 “Climate, Energy and Mobility” such as on urban health or on mitigating the impact of road traffic accidents and related injuries; with cluster 6 “Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment” such as on the role of nutrition for health (incl. human microbiome, mal- and over-nutrition, safe food), personalised diets (incl. food habits in general and childhood obesity in particular) and the impact of food-related environmental stressors on human health (incl. marketing and consumer habits).[[Strategic Plan 2021-2024 of Horizon Europe, Annex I, Table 2.]]

Expected impacts:

Proposals for topics under this destination should set out a credible pathway to contributing to staying healthy in a rapidly changing society, and more specifically to one or several of the following impacts:

  • Citizens adopt healthier lifestyles and behaviours, make healthier choices and maintain longer a healthy, independent and active life with a reduced disease burden, including at old ages or in other vulnerable stages of life.
  • Citizens are able and empowered to manage better their own physical and mental health and well-being, monitor their health, and interact with their doctors and health care providers.
  • Citizens´ trust in knowledge-based health interventions and in guidance from health authorities is strengthened, including through improved health literacy (including at young ages), resulting in increased engagement in and adherence to effective strategies for health promotion, diseases prevention and treatment, including increased vaccination rates and patient safety.

Health policies and actions for health promotion and disease prevention are knowledge-based, people-centred and thus targeted and tailored to citizens' needs, and designed to reduce health inequalities.

Link Link to Programme
Towards a molecular and neurobiological understanding of mental health and illness
Description of call
"Towards a molecular and neurobiological understanding of mental health and illness"

Expected Outcome

This topic aims at supporting activities that are enabling or contributing to one or several impacts of destination 1 “Staying healthy in a rapidly changing society”. To that end, proposals under this topic should aim for delivering results that are directed, tailored towards and contributing to one or several of the following expected outcomes:

  • Researchers, health care professionals and developers of medical interventions have a much better understanding of how genetic, epigenetic and environmental risk and resilience factors interact to drive or prevent the transition from mental health to mental illness throughout the life course. Developers of medical interventions make use of this understanding to develop novel classes of medications and non-pharmaceutical interventions for the prevention and treatment of mental illnesses (including relapse prevention).
  • Mental health professionals have access to different types of validated biomarkers for making more accurate diagnoses (beyond current symptom-based criteria) and for optimising and personalising preventive and therapeutic treatment decisions. As a result, patients receive more targeted therapies and relapse less frequently. They experience less stigma due to more accurate and objective diagnoses and increased public awareness about the molecular and neurobiological basis of mental health and mental illness.
  • Citizens have the possibility to undergo laboratory testing for assessing their mental health and their predisposition to mental illnesses, and are given timely evidence-based guidance on personalised preventive measures that underpin their active engagement and adherence to effective strategies for promoting their mental health.
  • Public health authorities and policy makers have access to comprehensive clinical trial data on the effectiveness of different types of pharmacological and non-pharmacological strategies for the promotion of mental health and prevention of mental illnesses, helping them draft evidence-based clinical guidelines and best practices as well as design tailor-made prevention policies and campaigns.


Mental illnesses represent a huge and growing burden for Europe, both at individual and societal level. There is an enormous stigma and they often remain undetected as diagnoses largely depend on symptom-based criteria without any biological markers linked to causative mechanisms. Currently available medications are primarily used by trial and error (rather than in a targeted and personalised manner) and they are all very similar in their mechanisms of action with rather little breakthrough innovation in the last few decades. There is further a lack of evidence base on the optimal use of different pharmacological and non-pharmacological prevention strategies. A deeper molecular and neurobiological understanding of the interplay between genetic, epigenetic and environmental risk and resilience factors, including neural circuit alterations, is critical for the development of objective biomarkers and evidence-based interventions that will significantly improve mental health outcomes.

Accordingly, the proposed research is expected to deliver on several of the following:

  • Significantly advance the molecular and neurobiological understanding of how genetic, epigenetic and environmental risk and resilience factors (such as psychosocial experiences, diet, sleep, natural and artificial light, use or abuse of drugs, infections and other exposures) interact to drive or prevent the transition from mental health to mental illness throughout the life course as well as how such molecular and neurobiological changes could be reversed. The use of computational modelling and/or artificial intelligence tools is encouraged for the analysis of big, complex and heterogeneous data.
  • Develop relevant predictive models through federated analysis of large European cohorts of psychiatric disorders and investigate the biological and neural basis of pathogenetic mechanisms and symptoms shared by different disorders. If relevant to the disorders studied, develop neurobiologically-grounded models of cognition and social behaviour and apply these models and their simulation potential to the understanding and improved management of mental health conditions associated with behavioural or emotional dysfunction.
  • Identify, validate and document different types or combinations of biomarkers for all of the following purposes:
    • development of robust quantitative, clinical measures of mental health;
    • identification of signatures, for example genetic and epigenetic blueprints, conferring susceptibility to and protection against mental illnesses;
    • establishment of more objective diagnostic and monitoring criteria (complementing current symptom-based criteria) to improve patient outcomes and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness;
    • prediction of treatment response and risk of relapse for better, more scientifically-guided and targeted use of currently available preventive and therapeutic interventions for different population groups.

For biomarker discovery, applicants are encouraged to take stock of advances in disciplines such as for instance neuropsychology, neurophysiology, neuroendocrinology, neuroimaging, electrophysiological monitoring, e-health/m-health, -omics (genomics, epigenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, lipidomics, exposomics, microbiomics including the role of the microbiota-gut-brain axis), optogenetics, nanomedicine, stem cell biology, neuroimmunology and immunopsychiatry.

  • Discover new disease pathways and drug targets (including pathways involved in maintaining mental health) to boost the development of new (or repurposed) classes of safer and more effective medications for the prevention and treatment of mental illnesses (including relapse prevention).
  • Establish the molecular and neurobiological effects as well as cognitive and psychological consequences of both pharmacological and non-pharmacological prevention strategies (for example: neurostimulation, neurofeedback, psychotherapy and other psychological/behavioural interventions, light therapy, diet, exercise, lifestyle, mindfulness or a combination of them) and assess their efficacy and side effects as part of clinical trials (also determining windows of opportunity when preventive actions are most effective throughout the life course).

Proposals may cover different stages in the continuum of the innovation cycle (from basic and translational research to the validation of findings in real-world settings) and should ensure strong involvement of end-users, including citizens and patients. Sex and gender differences and the effects of age should be duly taken into account. International cooperation is encouraged and the proposed research is expected to be multidisciplinary, including through the involvement of medical sciences, psychological sciences, social sciences and the humanities.

All projects funded under this topic are strongly encouraged to participate in networking and joint activities, as appropriate. These networking and joint activities could, for example, involve the participation in joint workshops, the exchange of knowledge, the development and adoption of best practices, or joint communication activities. This could also involve networking and joint activities with projects funded under other clusters and pillars of Horizon Europe, or other EU programmes, as appropriate. Therefore, proposals are expected to include a budget for the attendance to regular joint meetings and may consider to cover the costs of any other potential joint activities without the prerequisite to detail concrete joint activities at this stage. The details of these joint activities will be defined during the grant agreement preparation phase. In this regard, the Commission may take on the role of facilitator for networking and exchanges, including with relevant stakeholders, if appropriate.

Cross-cutting Priorities:

Link Link to Call
Thematic Focus Clustering, Development Cooperation, Economic Cooperation, Research & Innovation, Technology Transfer & Exchange, Health, Social Affairs, Sports
Funding area EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
United States of America
Origin of Applicant EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
United States of America
Eligible applicants Education and Training Centres, Federal State / Region / City / Municipality / Local Authority, Research Institution, Lobby Group / Professional Association / Trade Union, International Organization, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, SMEs (between 10 and 249 employees), Microenterprises (fewer than 10 employees), NGO / NPO, Public Services, National Government, Other, Start Up Company, University, Enterprise (more than 250 employees or not defined), Association
Applicant details

eligible non-EU countries:

  • countries associated to Horizon Europe
At the date of the publication of the work programme, there are no countries associated to Horizon Europe. Considering the Union’s interest to retain, in principle, relations with the countries associated to Horizon 2020, most third countries associated to Horizon 2020 are expected to be associated to Horizon Europe with an intention to secure uninterrupted continuity between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. In addition, other third countries can also become associated to Horizon Europe during the programme. For the purposes of the eligibility conditions, applicants established in Horizon 2020 Associated Countries or in other third countries negotiating association to Horizon Europe will be treated as entities established in an Associated Country, if the Horizon Europe association agreement with the third country concerned applies at the time of signature of the grant agreement.

  • low-and middle-income countries

Legal entities which are established in countries not listed above will be eligible for funding if provided for in the specific call conditions, or if their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority.

Specific cases:

  • Affiliated entities - Affiliated entities are eligible for funding if they are established in one of the countries listed above.
  • EU bodies - Legal entities created under EU law may also be eligible to receive funding, unless their basic act states otherwise.
  • International organisations - International European research organisations are eligible to receive funding. Unless their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority, other international organisations are not eligible to receive funding. International organisations with headquarters in a Member State or Associated Country are eligible to receive funding for ‘Training and mobility’actions and when provided for in the specific call conditions.
Project Partner Yes
Project Partner Details

Unless otherwise provided for in the specific call conditions , legal entities forming a consortium are eligible to participate in actions provided that the consortium includes:

  • at least one independent legal entity established in a Member State;and
  • at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries.
Further info

Proposal page limits and layout:

The application form will have two parts:

  • Part A to be filled in directly online  (administrative information, summarised budget, call-specific questions, etc.)
  • Part B to be downloaded from the Portal submission system, completed and re-uploaded as a PDF in the system

Page limit: 45 pages

Type of Funding Grants
Financial details
Expected EU contribution per projectThe Commission estimates that an EU contribution of around EUR 10.00 million would allow these outcomes to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of a proposal requesting different amounts.
Indicative budgetThe total indicative budget for the topic is EUR 60.00 million.
Typ of ActionResearch and Innovation Actions (RIA)
Funding rate100%
Submission Proposals must be submitted electronically via the Funding & Tenders Portal Electronic Submission System. Paper submissions are NOTpossible.

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