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Jul 05, 2012

A Real-Time fMRI-Based Spelling Device Immediately Enabling Robust Motor-Independent Communication

A Real-Time fMRI-Based Spelling Device Immediately Enabling Robust Motor-Independent Communication.

Curr Biol. 2012 Jun 27

Authors: Sorger B, Reithler J, Dahmen B, Goebel R

Human communication entirely depends on the functional integrity of the neuromuscular system. This is devastatingly illustrated in clinical conditions such as the so-called locked-in syndrome (LIS) [1], in which severely motor-disabled patients become incapable to communicate naturally-while being fully conscious and awake. For the last 20 years, research on motor-independent communication has focused on developing brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) implementing neuroelectric signals for communication (e.g., [2-7]), and BCIs based on electroencephalography (EEG) have already been applied successfully to concerned patients [8-11]. However, not all patients achieve proficiency in EEG-based BCI control [12]. Thus, more recently, hemodynamic brain signals have also been explored for BCI purposes [13-16]. Here, we introduce the first spelling device based on fMRI. By exploiting spatiotemporal characteristics of hemodynamic responses, evoked by performing differently timed mental imagery tasks, our novel letter encoding technique allows translating any freely chosen answer (letter-by-letter) into reliable and differentiable single-trial fMRI signals. Most importantly, automated letter decoding in real time enables back-and-forth communication within a single scanning session. Because the suggested spelling device requires only little effort and pretraining, it is immediately operational and possesses high potential for clinical applications, both in terms of diagnostics and establishing short-term communication with nonresponsive and severely motor-impaired patients.

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