Objective: Recovery of voluntary gait after spinal cord injury (SCI) requires the restoration of effective motor cortical commands, either by means of a mechanical connection to the limbs, or by restored functional connections to muscles. The latter approach might use functional electrical stimulation (FES), driven by cortical activity, to restore voluntary movements. Moreover, there is evidence that this peripheral stimulation, synchronized with patients' voluntary effort, can strengthen descending projections and recovery. As a step towards establishing such a cortically-controlled FES system for restoring function after SCI, we evaluate here the type and quantity of neural information needed to drive such a brain machine interface (BMI) in rats. We compared the accuracy of the predictions of hindlimb electromyograms (EMG) and kinematics using neural data from an intracortical array and a less-invasive epidural array.
Approach: Seven rats were trained to walk on a treadmill with a stable pattern. One group of rats (n = 4) was implanted with intracortical arrays spanning the hindlimb sensorimotor cortex and EMG electrodes in the contralateral hindlimb. Another group (n = 3) was implanted with epidural arrays implanted on the dura overlying hindlimb sensorimotor cortex. EMG, kinematics and neural data were simultaneously recorded during locomotion. EMGs and kinematics were decoded using linear and nonlinear methods from multiunit activity and field potentials.
Main results: Predictions of both kinematics and EMGs were effective when using either multiunit spiking or local field potentials (LFPs) recorded from intracortical arrays. Surprisingly, the signals from epidural arrays were essentially uninformative. Results from somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEPs) confirmed that these arrays recorded neural activity, corroborating our finding that this type of array is unlikely to provide useful information to guide an FES-BMI for rat walking.
Significance: We believe that the accuracy of our decoders in predicting EMGs from multiunit spiking activity is sufficient to drive an FES-BMI. Our future goal is to use this rat model to evaluate the potential for cortically-controlled FES to be used to restore locomotion after SCI, as well as its further potential as a rehabilitative technology for improving general motor function.