Covert visuospatial attention orienting in a brain-computer interface for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients

Mauro Marchetti, Francesco Piccione, Stefano Silvoni, Luciano Gamberini, Konstantinos Priftis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) allow people to control devices by translating brain signals into commands. BCIs represent a concrete solution with regard to communication and motor control disabilities of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Most of the BCIs rely on visual interfaces in which patients must move their eyes to achieve efficient BCI control. This fact represents a limitation of BCI use in ALS patients who are in the final stages of the disease. Objective. We aimed to improve visual interfaces for ALS patients to control the movement of a cursor on a monitor by orienting their covert visuospatial attention (ie, orienting without eye movements). Methods. A total of 10 ALS patients with different levels of impairment used 2 new visual interfaces in an event-related potential (ERP)-based BCI. In the first interface, they were required to use exogenous visuospatial attention orienting (VAO), whereas in the second interface, they were required to use endogenous VAO. Results. ALS patients were able to use the 2 interfaces for controlling the ERP-based BCI system in real time. Nevertheless, better target classification and information transfer rate were associated with the interface that was based on endogenous VAO. Conclusions. ALS patients can exploit their covert VAO to control a BCI that does not require eye movements. The implementation of endogenous VAO in the design of covert visuospatial attention-based interfaces seems to be suitable for designing more ergonomic and efficient BCIs for ALS patients with impaired eye movements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)430-438
Number of pages9
JournalNeurorehabilitation and Neural Repair
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • brain-computer interface
  • endogenous visuospatial attention orienting
  • exogenous visuospatial attention orienting
  • late negative component
  • P300

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Rehabilitation
  • Neurology


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