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Sensorimotor transformations and brain-machine interfaces

Alexander Gail

Conditional visuomotor behavior for flexible control of a neuroprosthetic device

As humans, we have a remarkable ability to adapt our behavior to many different situations. When approaching an intersection we have to either step on the gas pedal or step on the brake depending on the color of the traffic light. When we play tennis, we can pass the ball toward the racket of the other player in order to allow a beginner to hit the ball, or we can aim the ball away from the player’s racket to win the match. The examples underline how in the same context (intersection) we can selectively respond to different visual cues (traffic light color), or, the other way round, we can selectively respond in different contexts (game strategy) to the same cue (opponent). The flexibility of building arbitrary stimulus-response associations is commonly referred to as conditional motor behavior.

My junior research group is investigating the cortical basics of conditional motor behavior. How does the brain represent associations of visual cues and context information with different movement plans to guide our actions? What are the neural mechanisms of learning context-specific, conditional stimulus-response associations? How can we utilize conditional motor planning for the design of flexibly controllable cortical neuroprosthetic devices to help paralyzed or locked-in patients?

We use of intracortical, multi-channel, microelectrode recordings from different areas of the brain in our experiments. We extract various aspects of the recorded electrical neuronal signals and test their contribution to the planning and execution of visually guided, context-specific eye and hand movements.

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