Shaping the dynamics of a bidirectional neural interface

Alessandro Vato, Marianna Semprini, Emma Maggiolini, Francois D. Szymanski, Luciano Fadiga, Stefano Panzeri, Ferdinando A. Mussa-Ivaldi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Progress in decoding neural signals has enabled the development of interfaces that translate cortical brain activities into commands for operating robotic arms and other devices. The electrical stimulation of sensory areas provides a means to create artificial sensory information about the state of a device. Taken together, neural activity recording and microstimulation techniques allow us to embed a portion of the central nervous system within a closed-loop system, whose behavior emerges from the combined dynamical properties of its neural and artificial components. In this study we asked if it is possible to concurrently regulate this bidirectional brain-machine interaction so as to shape a desired dynamical behavior of the combined system. To this end, we followed a well-known biological pathway. In vertebrates, the communications between brain and limb mechanics are mediated by the spinal cord, which combines brain instructions with sensory information and organizes coordinated patterns of muscle forces driving the limbs along dynamically stable trajectories. We report the creation and testing of the first neural interface that emulates this sensory-motor interaction. The interface organizes a bidirectional communication between sensory and motor areas of the brain of anaesthetized rats and an external dynamical object with programmable properties. The system includes (a) a motor interface decoding signals from a motor cortical area, and (b) a sensory interface encoding the state of the external object into electrical stimuli to a somatosensory area. The interactions between brain activities and the state of the external object generate a family of trajectories converging upon a selected equilibrium point from arbitrary starting locations. Thus, the bidirectional interface establishes the possibility to specify not only a particular movement trajectory but an entire family of motions, which includes the prescribed reactions to unexpected perturbations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1002578
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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