Evoking highly focal percepts in the fingertips through targeted stimulation of sulcal regions of the brain for sensory restoration

Brain Stimul. 2021 Sep-Oct;14(5):1184-1196. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2021.07.009. Epub 2021 Aug 3.


Background: Paralysis and neuropathy, affecting millions of people worldwide, can be accompanied by significant loss of somatosensation. With tactile sensation being central to achieving dexterous movement, brain-computer interface (BCI) researchers have used intracortical and cortical surface electrical stimulation to restore somatotopically-relevant sensation to the hand. However, these approaches are restricted to stimulating the gyral areas of the brain. Since representation of distal regions of the hand extends into the sulcal regions of human primary somatosensory cortex (S1), it has been challenging to evoke sensory percepts localized to the fingertips.

Objective/hypothesis: Targeted stimulation of sulcal regions of S1, using stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) depth electrodes, can evoke focal sensory percepts in the fingertips.

Methods: Two participants with intractable epilepsy received cortical stimulation both at the gyri via high-density electrocorticography (HD-ECoG) grids and in the sulci via SEEG depth electrode leads. We characterized the evoked sensory percepts localized to the hand.

Results: We show that highly focal percepts can be evoked in the fingertips of the hand through sulcal stimulation. fMRI, myelin content, and cortical thickness maps from the Human Connectome Project elucidated specific cortical areas and sub-regions within S1 that evoked these focal percepts. Within-participant comparisons showed that percepts evoked by sulcal stimulation via SEEG electrodes were significantly more focal (80% less area; p = 0.02) and localized to the fingertips more often, than by gyral stimulation via HD-ECoG electrodes. Finally, sulcal locations with consistent modulation of high-frequency neural activity during mechanical tactile stimulation of the fingertips showed the same somatotopic correspondence as cortical stimulation.

Conclusions: Our findings indicate minimally invasive sulcal stimulation via SEEG electrodes could be a clinically viable approach to restoring sensation.

Keywords: Brain-computer interface; Fingertip representation; Sensory percepts; Sensory restoration; Stereoelectroencephalography depth electrodes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrocorticography
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Hand*
  • Humans
  • Somatosensory Cortex*
  • Touch