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Practice makes perfect -- motor memory possible for neuroprosthetic control
Date:7/20/2009

"Practice makes perfect" is the maxim drummed into students struggling to learn a new motor skill be it riding a bike or developing a killer backhand in tennis. In order to become proficient in any motor task, all that practice must eventually modify the performer's nervous system so that stable motor memories of the physical actions are formed. In this week's issue of PLoS Biology, new research reveals that macaque monkeys can achieve a kind of consolidation of motor memory when using a neuroprosthetic device to complete a motor action. The finding could have a role in increasing the ease with which physically disabled people can master the control of artificial limbs and other disembodied devices.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, taught macaque monkeys to use their own brain signals to move a computer cursor to various targets using a prosthetic device, and as the monkeys learned to proficiently use the robotic device, the researchers monitored their brain signals. The scientists learned that the brain develops a mental map of the solution to the task, and that the neural patterns persisted without deviation, much like a driver sticks to a given route commuting to work.

"When your own body performs motor tasks repeatedly, the movements become almost automatic," said study principal investigator Jose Carmena. "The profound part of our study is that this is all happening with something that is not part of one's own body. We have demonstrated that the brain is able to form a motor memory to control a disembodied device in a way that mirrors how it controls its own body. That has never been shown before."

Researchers have previously demonstrated that rodents, non-human primates and humans are able to control robotic devices or computer cursors in real time using only brain signals. But what had not been clear before was whether such a skill had been consolidated as a motor memory. The new study suggests
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Contact: Elliot Page
press@plos.org
Public Library of Science
Source:Eurekalert

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