Objective: An important goal of neuroprosthetic research is to establish bidirectional communication between the user and new prosthetic limbs that are capable of controlling >20 different movements. One strategy for achieving this goal is to interface the prosthetic limb directly with efferent and afferent fibres in the peripheral nervous system using an array of intrafascicular microelectrodes. This approach would provide access to a large number of independent neural pathways for controlling high degree-of-freedom prosthetic limbs, as well as evoking multiple-complex sensory percepts.
Approach: Utah Slanted Electrode Arrays (USEAs, 96 recording/stimulating electrodes) were implanted for 30 days into the median (Subject 1-M, 31 years post-amputation) or ulnar (Subject 2-U, 1.5 years post-amputation) nerves of two amputees. Neural activity was recorded during intended movements of the subject's phantom fingers and a linear Kalman filter was used to decode the neural data. Microelectrode stimulation of varying amplitudes and frequencies was delivered via single or multiple electrodes to investigate the number, size and quality of sensory percepts that could be evoked. Device performance over time was assessed by measuring: electrode impedances, signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs), stimulation thresholds, number and stability of evoked percepts.
Main results: The subjects were able to proportionally, control individual fingers of a virtual robotic hand, with 13 different movements decoded offline (r = 0.48) and two movements decoded online. Electrical stimulation across one USEA evoked >80 sensory percepts. Varying the stimulation parameters modulated percept quality. Devices remained intrafascicularly implanted for the duration of the study with no significant changes in the SNRs or percept thresholds.
Significance: This study demonstrated that an array of 96 microelectrodes can be implanted into the human peripheral nervous system for up to 1 month durations. Such an array could provide intuitive control of a virtual prosthetic hand with broad sensory feedback.