The science and engineering behind sensitized brain-controlled bionic hands

Physiol Rev. 2022 Apr 1;102(2):551-604. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00034.2020. Epub 2021 Sep 20.


Advances in our understanding of brain function, along with the development of neural interfaces that allow for the monitoring and activation of neurons, have paved the way for brain-machine interfaces (BMIs), which harness neural signals to reanimate the limbs via electrical activation of the muscles or to control extracorporeal devices, thereby bypassing the muscles and senses altogether. BMIs consist of reading out motor intent from the neuronal responses monitored in motor regions of the brain and executing intended movements with bionic limbs, reanimated limbs, or exoskeletons. BMIs also allow for the restoration of the sense of touch by electrically activating neurons in somatosensory regions of the brain, thereby evoking vivid tactile sensations and conveying feedback about object interactions. In this review, we discuss the neural mechanisms of motor control and somatosensation in able-bodied individuals and describe approaches to use neuronal responses as control signals for movement restoration and to activate residual sensory pathways to restore touch. Although the focus of the review is on intracortical approaches, we also describe alternative signal sources for control and noninvasive strategies for sensory restoration.

Keywords: artificial touch; brain-machine interfaces; motor control; neuroprosthetics; sensory feedback.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bionics*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain-Computer Interfaces*
  • Feedback, Sensory / physiology*
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology