A framework for relating neural activity to freely moving behavior


Two research communities, motor systems neuroscience and motor prosthetics, examine the relationship between neural activity in the motor cortex and movement. The former community aims to understand how the brain controls and generates movement; the latter community focuses on how to decode neural activity as control signals for a prosthetic cursor or limb. Both have made progress toward understanding the relationship between neural activity in the motor cortex and behavior. However, these findings are tested using animal models in an environment that constrains behavior to simple, limited movements. These experiments show that, in constrained settings, simple reaching motions can be decoded from small populations of spiking neurons. It is unclear whether these findings hold for more complex, full-body behaviors in unconstrained settings. Here we present the results of freely-moving behavioral experiments from a monkey with simultaneous intracortical recording. We investigated neural firing rates while the monkey performed various tasks such as walking on a treadmill, reaching for food, and sitting idly. We show that even in such an unconstrained and varied context, neural firing rates are well tuned to behavior, supporting findings of basic neuroscience. Further, we demonstrate that the various behavioral tasks can be reliably classified with over 95% accuracy, illustrating the viability of decoding techniques despite significant variation and environmental distractions associated with unconstrained behavior. Such encouraging results hint at potential utility of the freely-moving experimental paradigm.

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Available from: Michael J Black, Mar 02, 2014
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    ABSTRACT: Objective: Motor neuroscience and brain-machine interface (BMI) design is based on examining how the brain controls voluntary movement, typically by recording neural activity and behavior from animal models. Recording technologies used with these animal models have traditionally limited the range of behaviors that can be studied, and thus the generality of science and engineering research. We aim to design a freely-moving animal model using neural and behavioral recording technologies that do not constrain movement. Approach: We have established a freely-moving rhesus monkey model employing technology that transmits neural activity from an intracortical array using a head-mounted device and records behavior through computer vision using markerless motion capture. We demonstrate the flexibility and utility of this new monkey model, including the first recordings from motor cortex while rhesus monkeys walk quadrupedally on a treadmill. Main results: Using this monkey model, we show that multi-unit threshold-crossing neural activity encodes the phase of walking and that the average firing rate of the threshold crossings covaries with the speed of individual steps. On a population level, we find that neural state-space trajectories of walking at different speeds have similar rotational dynamics in some dimensions that evolve at the step rate of walking, yet robustly separate by speed in other state-space dimensions. Significance: Freely-moving animal models may allow neuroscientists to examine a wider range of behaviors and can provide a flexible experimental paradigm for examining the neural mechanisms that underlie movement generation across behaviors and environments. For BMIs, freely-moving animal models have the potential to aid prosthetic design by examining how neural encoding changes with posture, environment and other real-world context changes. Understanding this new realm of behavior in more naturalistic settings is essential for overall progress of basic motor neuroscience and for the successful translation of BMIs to people with paralysis.
    No preview · Article · Jul 2014 · Journal of Neural Engineering
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