Published on Sat Oct 09 2021

Preserved motor representations after paralysis

Guan, C., Aflalo, T., Zhang, C., Rosario, E. R., Pouratian, N., Andersen, R. A.

Neural plasticity allows us to learn skills and incorporate new experiences. What happens when our lived experiences fundamentally change, such as after a severe injury? We analyzed intracortical population activity in a tetraplegic adult.

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Abstract

Neural plasticity allows us to learn skills and incorporate new experiences. What happens when our lived experiences fundamentally change, such as after a severe injury? To address this question, we analyzed intracortical population activity in a tetraplegic adult as she controlled a virtual hand through a brain-computer interface (BCI). By attempting to move her fingers, she could accurately drive the corresponding virtual fingers. Neural activity during finger movements exhibited robust representational structure and dynamics that matched the representational structure, previously identified in able-bodied individuals. The finger representational structure was consistent during extended use, even though the structure contributed to BCI decoding errors. Our results suggest that motor representations are remarkably stable, even after complete paralysis. BCIs re-engage these preserved representations to restore lost motor functions.