Brain-Computer Interface with Inhibitory Neurons Reveals Subtype-Specific Strategies

Curr Biol. 2018 Jan 8;28(1):77-83.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.11.035. Epub 2017 Dec 14.


Brain-computer interfaces have seen an increase in popularity due to their potential for direct neuroprosthetic applications for amputees and disabled individuals. Supporting this promise, animals-including humans-can learn even arbitrary mapping between the activity of cortical neurons and movement of prosthetic devices [1-4]. However, the performance of neuroprosthetic device control has been nowhere near that of limb control in healthy individuals, presenting a dire need to improve the performance. One potential limitation is the fact that previous work has not distinguished diverse cell types in the neocortex, even though different cell types possess distinct functions in cortical computations [5-7] and likely distinct capacities to control brain-computer interfaces. Here, we made a first step in addressing this issue by tracking the plastic changes of three major types of cortical inhibitory neurons (INs) during a neuron-pair operant conditioning task using two-photon imaging of IN subtypes expressing GCaMP6f. Mice were rewarded when the activity of the positive target neuron (N+) exceeded that of the negative target neuron (N-) beyond a set threshold. Mice improved performance with all subtypes, but the strategies were subtype specific. When parvalbumin (PV)-expressing INs were targeted, the activity of N- decreased. However, targeting of somatostatin (SOM)- and vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP)-expressing INs led to an increase of the N+ activity. These results demonstrate that INs can be individually modulated in a subtype-specific manner and highlight the versatility of neural circuits in adapting to new demands by using cell-type-specific strategies.

Keywords: brain-computer interface task; inhibitory neurons; motor cortex; parvalbumin; plasticity; somatostatin; two-photon calcium imaging; vasoactive intestinal peptide.

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.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Computer Interfaces*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neocortex / physiology
  • Neural Inhibition
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Parvalbumins / chemistry
  • Somatostatin / chemistry
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide / chemistry


  • Parvalbumins
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide
  • Somatostatin