Brain-Machine Interfaces: Powerful Tools for Clinical Treatment and Neuroscientific Investigations

Neuroscientist. 2019 Apr;25(2):139-154. doi: 10.1177/1073858418775355. Epub 2018 May 17.


Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) have exploded in popularity in the past decade. BMIs, also called brain-computer interfaces, provide a direct link between the brain and a computer, usually to control an external device. BMIs have a wide array of potential clinical applications, ranging from restoring communication to people unable to speak due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or a stroke, to restoring movement to people with paralysis from spinal cord injury or motor neuron disease, to restoring memory to people with cognitive impairment. Because BMIs are controlled directly by the activity of prespecified neurons or cortical areas, they also provide a powerful paradigm with which to investigate fundamental questions about brain physiology, including neuronal behavior, learning, and the role of oscillations. This article reviews the clinical and neuroscientific applications of BMIs, with a primary focus on motor BMIs.

Keywords: brain-computer interface; brain-machine interface; communication; learning; motor cortex; motor physiology; neuroprosthesis; neurorehabilitation; paralysis; stroke.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain-Computer Interfaces*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Movement*
  • Nervous System Diseases / rehabilitation*