Brain communication in the locked-in state

Daniele De Massari, Carolin A. Ruf, Adrian Furdea, Tamara Matuz, Linda Van Der Heiden, Sebastian Halder, Stefano Silvoni, Niels Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Patients in the completely locked-in state have no means of communication and they represent the target population for brain-computer interface research in the last 15 years. Although different paradigms have been tested and different physiological signals used, to date no sufficiently documented completely locked-in state patient was able to control a brain-computer interface over an extended time period. We introduce Pavlovian semantic conditioning to enable basic communication in completely locked-in state. This novel paradigm is based on semantic conditioning for online classification of neuroelectric or any other physiological signals to discriminate between covert (cognitive) 'yes' and 'no' responses. The paradigm comprised the presentation of affirmative and negative statements used as conditioned stimuli, while the unconditioned stimulus consisted of electrical stimulation of the skin paired with affirmative statements. Three patients with advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis participated over an extended time period, one of which was in a completely locked-in state, the other two in the locked-in state. The patients' level of vigilance was assessed through auditory oddball procedures to study the correlation between vigilance level and the classifier's performance. The average online classification accuracies of slow cortical components of electroencephalographic signals were around chance level for all the patients. The use of a non-linear classifier in the offline classification procedure resulted in a substantial improvement of the accuracy in one locked-in state patient achieving 70% correct classification. A reliable level of performance in the completely locked-in state patient was not achieved uniformly throughout the 37 sessions despite intact cognitive processing capacity, but in some sessions communication accuracies up to 70% were achieved. Paradigm modifications are proposed. Rapid drop of vigilance was detected suggesting attentional variations or variations of circadian period as important factors in brain-computer interface communication with locked-in state and completely locked-in state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1989-2000
Number of pages12
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • brain-computer interface
  • locked-in state
  • semantic conditioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology

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