Notice of Intent to Publish a Funding Opportunity Announcement for Ocular Surface Innervation from Cell Types to Circuit Functions (U01 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)
Notice Number:

Key Dates

Release Date:
November 24, 2020
Estimated Publication Date of Funding Opportunity Announcement:
February 02, 2021
First Estimated Application Due Date:
June 01, 2021
Earliest Estimated Award Date:
November 01, 2021
Earliest Estimated Start Date:
December 01, 2021
Related Announcements


Issued by

National Eye Institute (NEI)


The NEI intends to promote a new initiative by publishing a Request for Applications (RFA) to solicit applications for research that will cooperatively and comprehensively dissect ocular surface innervation – from corneal sensation to pain circuits and tearing reflexes. This RFA aims to explore this system at three levels of analysis: morphologic, molecular, and functional. Successful projects will incorporate at least two of these three levels of analysis, and ideally all three. The premise of this RFA is that such basic biology knowledge will facilitate deeper understanding of the resultant pathobiology including neuropathic ocular pain and dry eye disease.

This Notice is being provided to allow potential applicants sufficient time to develop meaningful collaborations and responsive projects.

The FOA is expected to be published in February 2021 with an expected application due date in June 2021.

This FOA will utilize the U01 activity code. Details of the planned FOA are provided below.

Research Initiative Details

In order to capitalize on research opportunities at the front of the eye, NEI has launched the Anterior Segment Initiative (ASI). As part of this Initiative, a Request for Information (RFI) was issued under NOT-EY-20-001 with the aim of seeking input from the scientific community and the public to help identify the major gaps in knowledge and the research opportunities related to the anterior segment of the eye. NEI received a robust response. Among the different areas of need identified was the importance of tackling the clinically significant problems of ocular pain and dry eye disease. Therefore, the objective of this planned RFA is to comprehensively dissect and integrate the pain and tearing pathways at the morphologic, molecular, and functional levels. It also aims to support research that will provide a foundation for understanding the role of corneal surface sensation in the development of post-operative corneal surgery pain (e.g. LASIK), migraine, photophobia, among other related conditions. Finally, very little is known about the autonomic innervation of the corneal surface which may in turn be key to understanding the inflammatory process seen in ocular surface disease including dry eye disease. In sum, the objective of this RFA covers the umbrella of ocular surface innervation as it relates to a variety of functions.

This Notice strongly encourages the establishment of research teams that are multidisciplinary with the complementary expertise required for anatomical, molecular and functional analysis. The teams funded will convene and collaborate as a Consortium and are expected to share data and resources consistent with achieving the overall goals of this RFA and the ASI initiative. Sharing data with the broader scientific community after the completion of the project is also expected.

The areas of research encouraged in this initiative include:

The formation of collaboratory teams with complementary expertise for the various levels of analysis of ocular sensation, pain, and tearing.

Responsive applications must include two of the three themes below. A non-exhaustive list of areas of research interest within each theme are provided.

  1. Anatomy – morphology: cell spatial location and morphology; connectivity maps; identification of local and/or long-range circuits and projections; microenvironment connectivity to local circuits.
  2. Molecular signatures: multi-omic approaches to identify cell types, signaling networks, and their connections; microenvironment, tissue composition and ratio of various molecularly defined cell types.
  3. Functional measures: functional connectivity data from defined cell types; the role of autonomic innervation in resolving inflammatory responses; cell/molecular mechanisms of plasticity in the context of therapeutic intervention.


Funding Information
Estimated Total Funding
Expected Number of Awards
Estimated Award Ceiling
Primary CFDA Numbers


Anticipated Eligible Organizations
Public/State Controlled Institution of Higher Education
Private Institution of Higher Education
Nonprofit with 501(c)(3) IRS Status (Other than Institution of Higher Education)
Small Business
State Government
For-Profit Organization (Other than Small Business)
Indian/Native American Tribal Government (Federally Recognized)
County governments
Independent school districts
Public housing authorities/Indian housing authorities
Indian/Native American Tribally Designated Organization (Native American tribal organizations (other than Federally recognized tribal governments)
U.S. Territory or Possession
Indian/Native American Tribal Government (Other than Federally Recognized)
Non-domestic (non-U.S.) Entity (Foreign Organization)
Regional Organization
Eligible Agencies of the Federal Government

Applications are not being solicited at this time. 


Please direct all inquiries to:

Houmam Araj, PhD

National Eye Institute(NEI)

(301) 451-2020

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