The science of neural interface systems

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2009;32:249-66. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.051508.135241.


The ultimate goal of neural interface research is to create links between the nervous system and the outside world either by stimulating or by recording from neural tissue to treat or assist people with sensory, motor, or other disabilities of neural function. Although electrical stimulation systems have already reached widespread clinical application, neural interfaces that record neural signals to decipher movement intentions are only now beginning to develop into clinically viable systems to help paralyzed people. We begin by reviewing state-of-the-art research and early-stage clinical recording systems and focus on systems that record single-unit action potentials. We then address the potential for neural interface research to enhance basic scientific understanding of brain function by offering unique insights in neural coding and representation, plasticity, brain-behavior relations, and the neurobiology of disease. Finally, we discuss technical and scientific challenges faced by these systems before they are widely adopted by severely motor-disabled patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electrodes, Implanted / trends
  • Humans
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Movement Disorders / physiopathology
  • Movement Disorders / therapy*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Prostheses and Implants / trends*
  • Robotics / methods
  • Robotics / trends*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted / instrumentation
  • User-Computer Interface*