The UCLA Brain Research Institute (BRI) was founded in 1959 by Drs. John French, Horace “Tid” Magoun, Donald Lindsley and Charles Sawyer with the purpose of creating a central body responsible for promoting neuroscience as a distinctive, inherently interdisciplinary research endeavor. The first space dedicated to the BRI, a wing of the new Center for Health Studies, would not officially open its doors until October 1961.

UCLA had already emerged as a national leader in neuroscience research during the 1950s. Institute co-founder Magoun came to UCLA to head the Department of Anatomy (now Neurobiology). His organizational efforts and research partnerships with other departments attracted prominent new faculty such as Arnold Scheibel and Carmine Clemente who would become central figures in BRI leadership in decades to come. These core faculty were instrumental in attracting a rapidly growing interdisciplinary group of neuroscientists, students and an increasing number of visiting scientists from all over the world.

The first building dedicated to the BRI brought down physical barriers to interdisciplinary collaborations by placing the departments of anatomy, biophysics and nuclear medicine, infectious diseases, neurology, neurosurgery, pathology, pediatrics, pharmacology, physiology chemistry, physiology, psychiatry, psychology and zoology together. At the time, the L-shaped structure formed a bridge between the medical school and the Neuropsychiatric Institute. To this day, the Brain Research Institute remains an intellectual bridge between UCLA basic sciences and the clinical work in the College and the David Geffen School of Medicine.