Neural mechanisms of brain-computer interface control

S. Halder, D. Agorastos, R. Veit, E. M. Hammer, S. Lee, B. Varkuti, M. Bogdan, W. Rosenstiel, N. Birbaumer, A. Kübler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) enable people with paralysis to communicate with their environment. Motor imagery can be used to generate distinct patterns of cortical activation in the electroencephalogram (EEG) and thus control a BCI. To elucidate the cortical correlates of BCI control, users of a sensory motor rhythm (SMR)-BCI were classified according to their BCI control performance. In a second session these participants performed a motor imagery, motor observation and motor execution task in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.Group difference analysis between high and low aptitude BCI users revealed significantly higher activation of the supplementary motor areas (SMA) for the motor imagery and the motor observation tasks in high aptitude users. Low aptitude users showed no activation when observing movement. The number of activated voxels during motor observation was significantly correlated with accuracy in the EEG-BCI task (r=0.53). Furthermore, the number of activated voxels in the right middle frontal gyrus, an area responsible for processing of movement observation, correlated (r=0.72) with BCI-performance. This strong correlation highlights the importance of these areas for task monitoring and working memory as task goals have to be activated throughout the BCI session.The ability to regulate behavior and the brain through learning mechanisms involving imagery such as required to control a BCI constitutes the consequence of ideo-motor co-activation of motor brain systems during observation of movements. The results demonstrate that acquisition of a sensorimotor program reflected in SMR-BCI-control is tightly related to the recall of such sensorimotor programs during observation of movements and unrelated to the actual execution of these movement sequences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1779-1790
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 15 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology


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