Chapter 24 Physiological regulation of thinking: brain-computer interface (BCI) research

Niels Birbaumer, Cornelia Weber, Christa Neuper, Ethan Buch, Klaus Haapen, Leonardo Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The discovery of event-related desynchronization (ERD) and event-related synchronization (ERS) by Pfurtscheller paved the way for the development of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). BCIs allow control of computers or external devices with the regulation of brain activity only. Two different research traditions produced two different types of BCIs: invasive BCIs, realized with implanted electrodes in brain tissue and noninvasive BCIs using electrophysiological recordings in humans such as electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) and metabolic changes such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Clinical applications were reserved with few exceptions for the noninvasive approach: communication with the completely paralyzed and locked-in syndrome with slow cortical potentials (SCPs), sensorimotor rhythms (SMRs), 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. Movement restoration was achieved with noninvasive BCIs based on SMRs control in single cases with spinal cord lesions and chronic stroke. 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 from spike patterns and extracellular field potentials. Whether invasive approaches allow superior brain control of motor responses compared to noninvasive BCI with intelligent peripheral devices and electrical muscle stimulation and EMG feedback remains to be demonstrated. The newly developed fMRI-BCIs and NIRS-BCIs offer promise for the learned regulation of emotional disorders and also disorders of small children (in the case of NIRS).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-391
Number of pages23
JournalProgress in Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • brain machine interface (BMI)
  • EEG
  • locked-in syndrome
  • paralysis
  • sensorimotor rhythm (SMR)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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