Hybrid Brain-Computer Interface and Functional Electrical Stimulation for Sensorimotor Training in Participants With Tetraplegia: A Proof-of-Concept Study

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Background and Purpose:

Impaired hand function decreases quality of life in persons with tetraplegia. We tested functional electrical stimulation (FES) controlled by a hybrid brain-computer interface (BCI) for improving hand function in participants with tetraplegia.


Two participants with subacute tetraplegia (participant 1: C5 Brown-Sequard syndrome, participant 2: complete C5 lesion) took part in this proof-of-concept study. The goal was to determine whether the BCI system could drive the FES device by accurately classifying participants' intent (open or close the hand). Participants 1 and 2 received 10 sessions and 4 sessions of BCI-FES, respectively. A novel time-switch BCI strategy based on motor imagery was used to activate the FES. In one session, we tested a hybrid BCI-FES based on 2 spontaneously generated brain rhythms: a sensory-motor rhythm during motor imagery to activate a stimulator and occipital alpha rhythms to deactivate the stimulator. Participants received BCI-FES therapy 2 to 3 times a week in addition to conventional therapy. Imagery ability and muscle strength were measured before and after treatment.


Visual feedback was associated with a 4-fold increase of brain response during motor imagery in both participants. For participant 1, classification accuracy (open/closed) for motor imagery-based BCI was 83.5% (left hand) and 83.8% (right hand); participant 2 had a classification accuracy of 83.8% for the right hand. Participant 1 had moderate improvement in muscle strength, while there was no change for participant 2.

Discussion and Conclusion:

We demonstrated feasibility of BCI-FES, using 2 naturally generated brain rhythms. Studies on a larger number of participants are needed to separate the effects of BCI training from effects of conventional therapy.

Discussion and Conclusion:

Video Abstract available. (see Video, Supplemental Digital Content 1, http://links.lww.com/JNPT/A84) for more insights from the authors.

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