Brain-machine interfaces: Electrophysiological challenges and limitations

Bradley C. Lega, Mijail D. Serruya, Kareem A. Zaghloul

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Brain-machine interfaces (BMI) seek to directly communicate with the human nervous system in order to diagnose and treat intrinsic neurological disorders. While the first generation of these devices has realized significant clinical successes, they often rely on gross electrical stimulation using empirically derived parameters through open-loop mechanisms of action that are not yet fully understood. Their limitations reflect the inherent challenge in developing the next generation of these devices. This review identifies lessons learned from the first generation of BMI devices (chiefly deep brain stimulation), identifying key problems for which the solutions will aid the development of the next generation of technologies. Our analysis examines four hypotheses for the mechanism by which brain stimulation alters surrounding neurophysiologic activity. We then focus on motor prosthetics, describing various approaches to overcoming the problems of decoding neural signals. We next turn to visual prosthetics, an area for which the challenges of signal coding to match neural architecture has been partially overcome. Finally, we close with a review of cortical stimulation, examining basic principles that will be incorporated into the design of future devices. Throughout the review, we relate the issues of each specific topic to the common thread of BMI research: translating new knowledge of network neuroscience into improved devices for neuromodulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-28
Number of pages24
JournalCritical reviews in biomedical engineering
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2011


  • Brain machine interfaces
  • Cortical stimulation
  • Deep brain stimulation
  • Motor prosthesis
  • Network neuroscience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering


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