Exploring how the sense of touch influences behavior, and what happens when it's gone
The field of brain computer interfaces (BCI) has been making rapid advances in decoding brain activity into control signals capable of operating neural prosthetic devices, such as dexterous robotic arms and computer cursors. Recent work has demonstrated simultaneous control over up to 10 degrees-of-freedom, but the current paradigms lack a component crucial to normal motor control: somatosensory feedback. Currently, BCIs are controlled using visual feedback alone, which is important for many reaching movement and identifying target locations.
The objective of this work is to provide real-time, cutaneous, somatosensory feedback to users of dexterous prosthetic limbs under BCI control by applying intracortical microstimulation (ICMS) to primary somatosensory cortex. To this end, two microelectrode arrays were placed in human somatosensory cortex of a human participant. I first characterized qualities of sensations evoked via ICMS, such as percept location, modality, intensity and size, over a two-year study period. The sensations were found to be focal to a single digit, and increased in intensity linearly with pulse train amplitude. Additionally, I found these qualities to be stable over a two-year period, suggesting that delivering ICMS was not damaging the electrode-tissue interface. ICMS was then used as a real-time feedback source during BCI control of a robotic limb during tasks ranging from simple force-matching tasks to functional reach, grasp and carry tasks. Finally, we examined the relationship between pulse train parameters and conscious perception of sensations, an endeavor that until now could not have been undertaken.
These results demonstrate that ICMS is a suitable means of relaying somatosensory feedback to BCI users. Adding somatosensory feedback to BCI users has the potential to improve embodiment and control of the devices, bringing this technology closer to restoring upper limb function.
Abstract: Chronic pain and impaired tactile sensitivity are frequently associated with "blurred" representations in the somatosensory cortex. The factors that produce such somatosensory blurring, however, remain poorly understood. We manipulated visuo-tactile congruence to investigate its role in promoting somatosensory reorganization. To this aim we used the mirror box illusion that produced in participants the subjective feeling of looking directly at their left hand, though they were seeing the reflection of their right hand. Simultaneous touches were applied to the middle or ring finger of each hand. In one session, the same fingers were touched (for example both middle fingers), producing a congruent percept; in the other session different fingers were touched, producing an incongruent percept. In the somatosensory system, suppressive interactions between adjacent stimuli are an index of intracortical inhibitory function. After each congruent and incongruent session, we recorded somatosensory evoked potential (SEPs) elicited by electrocutaneous stimulation of the left ring and middle fingers, either individually or simultaneously. A somatosensory suppression index (SSI) was calculated as the difference in amplitude between the sum of potentials evoked by the two individually stimulated fingers and the potentials evoked by simultaneous stimulation of both fingers. This SSI can be taken as an index of the strength of inhibitory interactions and consequently can provide a measure of how distinct the representations of the two fingers are. Results showed stronger SSI in the P100 component after congruent than incongruent stimulation, suggesting the key role of congruent sensory information about the body in inducing somatosensory reorganization.
Pub.: 24 Feb '16, Pinned: 28 Jun '17
Abstract: Intracortical microstimulation of the somatosensory cortex offers the potential for creating a sensory neuroprosthesis to restore tactile sensation. Whereas animal studies have suggested that both cutaneous and proprioceptive percepts can be evoked using this approach, the perceptual quality of the stimuli cannot be measured in these experiments. We show that microstimulation within the hand area of the somatosensory cortex of a person with long-term spinal cord injury evokes tactile sensations perceived as originating from locations on the hand and that cortical stimulation sites are organized according to expected somatotopic principles. Many of these percepts exhibit naturalistic characteristics (including feelings of pressure), can be evoked at low stimulation amplitudes, and remain stable for months. Further, modulating the stimulus amplitude grades the perceptual intensity of the stimuli, suggesting that intracortical microstimulation could be used to convey information about the contact location and pressure necessary to perform dexterous hand movements associated with object manipulation.
Pub.: 16 Oct '16, Pinned: 28 Jun '17
Abstract: In recent years, a consensus has emerged that somatosensory feedback needs to be provided for upper limb neuroprostheses to be useful. An increasingly promising approach to sensory restoration is to electrically stimulate neurons along the somatosensory neuraxis to convey information about the state of the prosthetic limb and about contact with objects. To date, efforts towards artificial sensory feedback have consisted mainly of demonstrating that some sensory information could be conveyed using a small number of stimulation patterns, generally delivered through single electrodes. However impressive these achievements are, results from different studies are hard to compare, as each research team implements different stimulation patterns and tests the elicited sensations differently. A critical question is whether different stimulation strategies will generalize from contrived laboratory settings to activities of daily living. Here, we lay out some key specifications that an artificial somatosensory channel should meet, discuss how different approaches should be evaluated, and caution about looming challenges that the field of sensory restoration will face.
Pub.: 01 Nov '16, Pinned: 28 Jun '17
Abstract: Intracortical microstimulation (ICMS) is a powerful tool to investigate the neural mechanisms of perception and can be used to restore sensation for patients who have lost it. While sensitivity to ICMS has previously been characterized, no systematic framework has been developed to summarize the detectability of individual ICMS pulse trains or the discriminability of pairs of pulse trains.We develop a simple simulation that describes the responses of a population of neurons to a train of electrical pulses delivered through a microelectrode. We then perform an ideal observer analysis on the simulated population responses to predict the behavioral performance of non-human primates in ICMS detection and discrimination tasks.Our computational model can predict behavioral performance across a wide range of stimulation conditions with high accuracy (R (2) = 0.97) and generalizes to novel ICMS pulse trains that were not used to fit its parameters. Furthermore, the model provides a theoretical basis for the finding that amplitude discrimination based on ICMS violates Weber's law.The model can be used to characterize the sensitivity to ICMS across the range of perceptible and safe stimulation regimes. As such, it will be a useful tool for both neuroscience and neuroprosthetics.
Pub.: 16 Dec '16, Pinned: 28 Jun '17
Abstract: Textbooks teach us that the removal of sensory input to sensory cortex, for example, following arm amputation, results in massive reorganisation in the adult brain. In this opinion article, we critically examine evidence for functional reorganisation of sensory cortical representations, focusing on the sequelae of arm amputation on somatosensory topographies. Based on literature from human and non-human primates, we conclude that the cortical representation of the limb remains remarkably stable despite the loss of its main peripheral input. Furthermore, the purportedly massive reorganisation results primarily from the formation or potentiation of new pathways in subcortical structures and does not produce novel functional sensory representations. We discuss the implications of the stability of sensory representations on the development of upper-limb neuroprostheses.
Pub.: 19 Feb '17, Pinned: 28 Jun '17
Abstract: For decades, the dominant theory of roughness coding in the somatosensory nerves posited that perceived roughness was determined by the spatial pattern of activation in one population of tactile nerve fibers, namely slowly adapting type 1 (SA1) afferents. Indeed, the perceived roughness of coarsely textured surfaces tracks the spatial variation in SA1 responses - the degree to which response strength varies across SA1 afferents. However, in a later study, the roughness of a different set of dot patterns was found to be a monotonic function of dot spacing, a result interpreted as evidence that roughness was determined by the strength of SA1 responses - the population firing rate - rather than their spatial layout. Then again, the spatial variation hypothesis was not tested directly as afferent responses to the conflicting patterns were not measured. To fill this gap, we simulated afferent responses to the dot patterns used in these roughness coding experiments using a model of skin mechanics. We then implemented the spatial variation and firing rate models of roughness based on these simulated responses to generate predictions of perceived roughness. We found that the spatial variation model accounts for perceived roughness under all tested conditions whereas the firing rate model does not.
Pub.: 26 Apr '17, Pinned: 28 Jun '17
Join Sparrho today to stay on top of science
Discover, organise and share research that matters to you