23 June 2017
Recent advances in neuroprostheses provide us with promising ideas of how to improve the quality of life in people suffering from impaired motor functioning of upper and lower limbs. Especially for patients after spinal cord injury (SCI), futuristic devices that are controlled by thought via brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) might be of tremendous help in managing daily tasks and restoring at least some mobility. However, there are certain problems arising when trying to implement BCI technology especially in such a heterogenous patient group. A plethora of processes occurring after the injuries change the brain's structure as well as its functionality collectively referred to as neuroplasticity. These changes are very different between individuals, leading to an increasing interest to reveal the exact changes occurring after SCI. In this study we investigated event-related potentials (ERPs) derived from electroencephalography (EEG) signals recorded during the (attempted) execution and imagination of hand and foot movements in healthy subjects and patients with SCI. As ERPs and especially early components are of interest for BCI research we aimed to investigate differences between 22 healthy volunteers and 7 patients (mean age = 51.86, SD = 15.49) suffering from traumatic or non-traumatic SCI since 2–314 months (mean = 116,57, SD = 125,55). We aimed to explore differences in ERP responses as well as the general presence of component that might be of interest to further consider for incorporation into BCI research. In order to match the real-life situation of BCIs for controlling neuroprostheses, we worked on small trial numbers (<25), only. We obtained a focal potential over Pz in ten healthy participants but in none of the patients after lenient artifact rejection. The potential was characterized by a high amplitude, it correlated with the repeated movements (6 times in 6 s) and in nine subjects it significantly differed from a resting condition. Furthermore, there are strong arguments against possible confounding factors leading to the potential's appearance. This phenomenon, occurring when movements are repeatedly conducted, might represent a possible potential to be used in futuristic BCIs and further studies should try to investigate the replicability of its appearance.