Direct brain control and communication in paralysis

Niels Birbaumer, Guillermo Gallegos-Ayala, Moritz Wildgruber, Stefano Silvoni, Surjo R. Soekadar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Despite considerable growth in the field of brain-computer or brain-machine interface (BCI/BMI) research reflected in several hundred publications each year, little progress was made to enable patients in complete locked-in state (CLIS) to reliably communicate using their brain activity. Independent of the invasiveness of the BCI systems tested, no sustained direct brain control and communication was demonstrated in a patient in CLIS so far. This suggested a more fundamental theoretical problem of learning and attention in brain communication with BCI/BMI, formulated in the extinction-of-thought hypothesis. While operant conditioning and goal-directed thinking seems impaired in complete paralysis, classical conditioning of brain responses might represent the only alternative. First experimental studies in CLIS using semantic conditioning support this assumption. Evidence that quality-of-life in locked-in-state is not as limited and poor as generally believed draise doubts that "patient wills" or "advanced directives"signed long-before the locked-in-state are useful. On the contrary, they might be used as an excuse to shorten anticipated long periods of care for these patients avoiding associated financial and social burdens. Current state and availability of BCI/BMI systems urge a broader societal discourse on the pressing ethical challenges associated with the advancements in neurotechnology and BCI/BMI research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-11
Number of pages8
JournalBrain Topography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


  • Brain-computer interface
  • Complete locked-in state
  • Paralysis
  • Patient will

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anatomy
  • Neurology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology

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  • Cite this

    Birbaumer, N., Gallegos-Ayala, G., Wildgruber, M., Silvoni, S., & Soekadar, S. R. (2014). Direct brain control and communication in paralysis. Brain Topography, 27(1), 4-11.