By Lee Irons, Ph.D.

In 2008, Congress passed a law requiring all investigators funded by NIH to make electronic versions of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts available to the public no later than 12 months after the date of publication. This policy applies to all papers that are peer-reviewed, are accepted for publication on or after April 7, 2008, and that arise from direct funding of an NIH grant active in 2008 or later.
The National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central exists to fulfill this mandate. PubMed Central is a digital archive of free, full-text journal papers. The unique identifier for papers in this archive is called the PMCID number and is not to be confused with the PMID number.

What should authors of papers supported by NIH funding do to be in compliance with the Policy? First, authors should only publish their papers in journals that are willing to cooperate with the NIH Public Access Policy. Second, authors must acknowledge the grant(s) that supported the research reported in their papers. Third, authors must deposit their papers on PubMed Central. There are four methods of depositing a paper or getting it deposited, depending on the journal. In many cases, the journal will deposit the paper for you at the time of publication (Method A). In other cases, the journal will deposit it, but they will charge a fee to do so (Method B). If a journal does not deposit papers on PubMed Central, then the author can submit the paper to the NIH Manuscript System (Method C). Finally, in some cases, journals submit the paper to the NIH Manuscript System upon request (Method D).

The fourth responsibility of authors is to cite their papers correctly. In all citations of papers in grant proposals, biosketches, and progress reports, be sure to include the PMCID number at the end of the citation, thereby demonstrating that the paper is in compliance. How do you cite the paper if it has not yet been published? For Method A and B Journals, write “PMC Journal - In Process.” For Method C and D Journals, use the NIHMSID number, which indicates that the paper has been submitted to the NIH Manuscript Submission system, but has not yet been assigned a PMCID number. For Method C and D papers, it is important to submit papers within three months after publication in the journal. If a paper is submitted after the three-month window, it will be considered “non-compliant.”

Finally, authors will need to work with the Principal Investigators of the grants that supported their papers to ensure that the papers are linked to the grant. Principal Investigators also need to learn how to use My NCBI, where they can log in to link papers to their grants and generate a PDF Publication Report required for inclusion in annual progress reports to NIH.
For more information about the NIH Public Access Policy, go to