Breaking the silence: Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) for communication and motor control

Niels Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) allow control of computers or external devices with regulation of brain activity alone. Invasive BCIs, almost exclusively investigated in animal models using implanted electrodes in brain tissue, and noninvasive BCIs using electrophysiological recordings in humans are described. Clinical applications were reserved with few exceptions for the noninvasive approach: communication with the completely paralyzed and locked-in syndrome with slow cortical potentials, sensorimotor rhythm and P300, and restoration of movement and cortical reorganization in high spinal cord lesions and chronic stroke. It was demonstrated that noninvasive EEG-based BCIs allow brain-derived communication in paralyzed and locked-in patients but not in completely locked-in patients. At present no firm conclusion about the clinical utility of BCI for the control of voluntary movement can be made. Invasive multielectrode BCIs in otherwise healthy animals allowed execution of reaching, grasping, and force variations based on spike patterns and extracellular field potentials. The newly developed fMRI-BCIs and NIRS-BCIs, like EEG BCIs, offer promise for the learned regulation of emotional disorders and also disorders of young children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)517-532
Number of pages16
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006


  • Brain-computer interface
  • Brain-machine interface
  • EEG
  • Invasive brain measures
  • Locked-in syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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