Leading UK neuroscientists today attacked "draconian" funding cuts that could see £4 million stripped from "vital" brain research every year.

The British Neuroscience Association (BNA) described the decision by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to slash expenditure to the field as a "desperate measure to balance the books".

They claimed the move would result in 30 research groups closing across UK universities with scores of scientists made unemployed.

It could also see a brain drain as eminent neuroscientists leave the UK to work overseas.

The BBSRC announced it is to cut the slice of government money going to neuroscience as a result of "too great a proportion of funding" being dedicated to the field.

Instead it wants to refocus cash into research proposals that address its strategy plan, in particular "food security, bio-energy and industrial biotechnology", the BBSRC said.

But in a letter signed by more than 80 leading British neuroscientists, the council is urged to reconsider.

The BNA said proposed cuts amounted to a £20 million shortfall in money over the next five years.

It comes at a time when big pharmaceutical companies are likewise slashing investment in the UK in favour of markets in the far east.

The BNA said the latest blow to neuroscience "is likely to affect the career aspirations, development and training opportunities for young researchers".

Professor David Nutt, BNA president-elect and the Edmond J Safra chair in neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, said he now does not know what to say to PhD students.

"I can't see career opportunities in the UK," he said.

The cuts would affect areas of traditional strength in British scientific study, such as stem cell research and brain development, the BNA said.

Professor Colin Blakemore, of Oxford University, said in all, 30 research groups may have to close.

"A hundred people may possibly lose their jobs because of this," he added.

The cuts come despite science funding being ring-fenced under the Government's spending plans.

Prof Blakemore said the public should be "very, very concerned" about the proposed slashing of funds to neuroscience research, as it could hit vital work on how the brain works.