EEG-based brain-computer interfaces: an overview of basic concepts and clinical applications in neurorehabilitation

Rev Neurosci. 2010;21(6):451-68. doi: 10.1515/revneuro.2010.21.6.451.


Some patients are no longer able to communicate effectively or even interact with the outside world in ways that most of us take for granted. In the most severe cases, tetraplegic or post-stroke patients are literally 'locked in' their bodies, unable to exert any motor control after, for example, a spinal cord injury or a brainstem stroke, requiring alternative methods of communication and control. But we suggest that, in the near future, their brains may offer them a way out. Non-invasive electroencephalogram (EEG)-based brain-computer interfaces (BCI) can be characterized by the technique used to measure brain activity and by the way that different brain signals are translated into commands that control an effector (e.g., controlling a computer cursor for word processing and accessing the internet). This review focuses on the basic concepts of EEG-based BCI, the main advances in communication, motor control restoration and the downregulation of cortical activity, and the mirror neuron system (MNS) in the context of BCI. The latter appears to be relevant for clinical applications in the coming years, particularly for severely limited patients. Hypothetically, MNS could provide a robust way to map neural activity to behavior, representing the high-level information about goals and intentions of these patients. Non-invasive EEG-based BCIs allow brain-derived communication in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and motor control restoration in patients after spinal cord injury and stroke. Epilepsy and attention deficit and hyperactive disorder patients were able to downregulate their cortical activity. Given the rapid progression of EEG-based BCI research over the last few years and the swift ascent of computer processing speeds and signal analysis techniques, we suggest that emerging ideas (e.g., MNS in the context of BCI) related to clinical neurorehabilitation of severely limited patients will generate viable clinical applications in the near future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Communication Aids for Disabled*
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Humans
  • User-Computer Interface*