University of Washington

Department of Rehabilitation Medicine

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Volitional control of single cortical neurons in a brain-machine interface


Moritz CT, Fetz EE



Publication Info:

Journal of Neural Engineering, 8(2):


Volitional control of cortical activity is relevant for optimizing control signals for neuroprosthetic devices. We explored the control of firing rates of single cortical cells in two Macaca nemestrina monkeys by providing visual feedback of neural activity and rewarding changes in cell rates. During 'brain-control' sessions, the monkeys modulated the activity of each of 246 cells to acquire targets requiring high or low discharge rates. Cell control improved more than two-fold from the beginning of practice to peak performance. Cell activity was modulated substantially more during brain control than during wrist movements. When recording stability permitted, the monkeys practiced controlling activity of the same cells across multiple days. The performance improved substantially for 27 of 36 cells when practicing brain control across days. The monkeys maintained discharge rates within each target for 1 s, but could maintain rates for up to 3 s for some cells, and performed the brain-control task equally well using cells recorded from the pre-central cortex compared to cells in the post-central cortex, and independently of any directional tuning. These findings demonstrate that arbitrary single cortical neurons, regardless of the strength of directional tuning, are capable of controlling cursor movements in a one-dimensional brain-machine interface. It is possible that direct conversion of activity from single cortical cells to control signals for neuroprosthetic devices may be a useful complementary strategy to population decoding of the intended movement direction.

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