Somatosensation plays a critical role in the dexterous manipulation of objects, in emotional communication, and in the embodiment of our limbs. For upper-limb neuroprostheses to be adopted by prospective users, prosthetic limbs will thus need to provide sensory information about the position of the limb in space and about objects grasped in the hand. One approach to restoring touch and proprioception consists of electrically stimulating neurons in somatosensory cortex in the hopes of eliciting meaningful sensations to support the dexterous use of the hands, promote their embodiment, and perhaps even restore the affective dimension of touch. In this review, we discuss the importance of touch and proprioception in everyday life, then describe approaches to providing artificial somatosensory feedback through intracortical microstimulation (ICMS). We explore the importance of biomimicry--the elicitation of naturalistic patterns of neuronal activation--and that of adaptation--the brain's ability to adapt to novel sensory input, and argue that both biomimicry and adaptation will play a critical role in the artificial restoration of somatosensation. We also propose that the documented re-organization that occurs after injury does not pose a significant obstacle to brain interfaces. While still at an early stage of development, sensory restoration is a critical step in transitioning upper-limb neuroprostheses from the laboratory to the clinic.
Keywords: Brain–machine interface; Intracortical microstimulation; Neuroprosthetics; Somatosensation; Somatosensory cortex.
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