Brain-computer interface in paralysis

Niels Birbaumer, Ander Ramos Murguialday, Leonardo Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose of review: Communication with patients suffering from locked-in syndrome and other forms of paralysis is an unsolved challenge. Movement restoration for patients with chronic stroke or other brain damage also remains a therapeutic problem and available treatments do not offer significant improvements. This review considers recent research in brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) as promising solutions to these challenges. Recent findings: Experimentation with nonhuman primates suggests that intentional goal directed movements of the upper limbs can be reconstructed and transmitted to external manipulandum or robotic devices controlled from a relatively small number of microelectrodes implanted into movement-relevant brain areas after some training, opening the door for the development of BCI or brain-machine interfaces in humans. Although noninvasive BCIs using electroencephalographic recordings or event-related-brain-potentials in healthy individuals and patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or stroke can transmit up to 80 bits/min of information, the use of BCIs - invasive or noninvasive - in severely or totally paralyzed patients has met some unforeseen difficulties. Summary: Invasive and noninvasive BCIs using recordings from nerve cells, large neuronal pools such as electrocorticogram and electroencephalography, or blood flow based measures such as functional magnetic resonance imaging and near-infrared spectroscopy show potential for communication in locked-in syndrome and movement restoration in chronic stroke, but controlled phase III clinical trials with larger populations of severely disturbed patients are urgently needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)634-638
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Opinion in Neurology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008


  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Movement restoration
  • Stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology


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