Give me a sign: decoding complex coordinated hand movements using high-field fMRI

Brain Topogr. 2014 Mar;27(2):248-57. doi: 10.1007/s10548-013-0322-x.


Decoding movements from the human cortex has been a topic of great interest for controlling an artificial limb in non-human primates and severely paralyzed people. Here we investigate feasibility of decoding gestures from the sensorimotor cortex in humans, using 7 T fMRI. Twelve healthy volunteers performed four hand gestures from the American Sign Language Alphabet. These gestures were performed in a rapid event related design used to establish the classifier and a slow event-related design, used to test the classifier. Single trial patterns were classified using a pattern-correlation classifier. The four hand gestures could be classified with an average accuracy of 63 % (range 35–95 %), which was significantly above chance (25 %). The hand region was, as expected, the most active region, and the optimal volume for classification was on average about 200 voxels, although this varied considerably across individuals. Importantly, classification accuracy correlated significantly with consistency of gesture execution. The results of our study demonstrate that decoding gestures from the hand region of the sensorimotor cortex using 7 T fMRI can reach very high accuracy, provided that gestures are executed in a consistent manner. Our results further indicate that the neuronal representation of hand gestures is robust and highly reproducible. Given that the most active foci were located in the hand region, and that 7 T fMRI has been shown to agree with electrocorticography, our results suggest that this confined region could serve to decode sign language gestures for intracranial brain–computer interfacing using surface grids.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Gestures*
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Young Adult