Brain-machine interfaces represent a solution for people with physical difficulties to communicate with their physical and social environment. In this work, researchers have identified a functional brain pattern in the prefrontal cortex, associated with cognitive processes, and have used it to activate a screen on a touch device (an iPad touchscreen).
The use of the neural cortical activity for operant conditioning tasks has existed for decades. In this case, however, a device patented by researchers has been used. This device allows the activation of any environmental instrument through specific electrical brain signals selected at will. In this research, authors worked with electrical brain signals that allowed the activation of the presentation of visual stimuli in the iPad's touchscreen. At the same time, experimental animals had to touch those stimuli presented on the iPad to obtain a reward and, thus, properly complete the task.
One of the most interesting results of this research is that rats learned to increase the frequency of the selected neural pattern throughout successive experimental sessions, with the aim of obtaining the reward. Authors also prove that the selected pattern is connected to cognitive processes and not to motor or behavioral activity, which represents an important progress in the design of brain-machine interfaces. Another result of interest is that the selected brain pattern did not modify its functional properties after being used to activate the associative learning. Therefore, the prefrontal cortex (a brain area particularly connected to mental processes and states) has the ability to produce an oscillatory pattern that rats can generate to control their environment.
From the point of view of the research, it is beneficial to use the conclusions of this work to advance in the area of brain-machine interactions.
This work was developed by researchers Samuel Hernández-González, Agnès Gruart and José María Delgado-García, at the Neuroscience Division of Universidad Pablo de Olavide (Sevilla, Spain) and Celia Andreu-Sánchez and Miguel Ángel Martín-Pascual, at the Neuro-Com of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Barcelona, Spain). The research was published in The Journal of Neuroscience and received financial support through grants from the Spanish MINECO, Junta de Andalucía and Spanish Tatiana Pérez de Guzmán el Bueno Foundation.