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Cortical control of virtual self-motion using task-specific subspaces

By Karen E Schroeder, Sean M Perkins, Qi Wang, Mark M Churchland

Posted 14 Dec 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2019.12.13.862532

Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) for reaching have enjoyed continued performance improvements, yet there remains significant need for BMIs that control other movement classes. Recent scientific findings suggest that the intrinsic covariance structure of neural activity depends strongly on movement class, potentially necessitating different decode algorithms across classes. To address this, we developed a self-motion BMI based on cortical activity as monkeys performed non-reaching arm movements: cycling a hand-held pedal to progress along a virtual track. Unlike during reaching, we found no high-variance dimensions that directly correlated with to-be-decoded variables. Yet we could decode a single variable - self-motion - by non-linearly leveraging structure that spanned many high-variance neural dimensions. Resulting online BMI-control success rates approached those during manual control. These findings make two broad points regarding how to build decode algorithms that harmonize with the empirical structure of neural activity in motor cortex. First, even when decoding from the same cortical region (e.g., arm-related motor cortex) different movement classes may need to employ very different strategies. Although correlations between neural activity and hand velocity are prominent during reaching tasks, they are not a fundamental property of motor cortex and cannot be counted on to be present in general. Second, although one generally desires a low-dimensional readout, it can be beneficial to leverage a multi-dimensional high-variance subspace. Fully embracing this approach requires highly non-linear approaches tailored to the task at hand, but can produce near-native levels of performance.

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