The activation of a single neuron in the brain may be enough to help restore muscle activity in the arms of paralysed patients with spinal cord injuries. The research in Nature has potential for the future treatment of spinal cord injury, stroke and other impairments affecting movement, and could lead to more natural prosthetic devices.
Using a brain-machine interface, Chet Moritz and colleagues re-routed motor cortex control signals from the brains of temporarily paralysed monkeys directly to their muscles. By creating artificial pathways for the signals to pass down, muscles that lacked natural stimulation after paralysis regained a flow of electrical signals from the brain. The monkeys were then able to tense the muscles in the paralysed arm, a first step towards producing more complicated goal-directed movements.
The team note that a neuron previously not associated with movement could be 'co-opted' to assume a new control role. This has implications for future brain-machine interface machines, which have so far focused on exploiting populations of neurons and are an important tool for the study of brain injury and motor control.
Chet Moritz (University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA)
Abstract available online.(C) Nature press release.
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