In the renowned Avatar film, we saw humans ‘living-in’ their synthetic alien counterparts through wireless brain signals sent from remote locations via brain-to-brain interfaces (BBIs). Whilst non-invasive wireless BBIs capable of this level of brain transference have not yet been developed, many studies have provided proof of concept involving the transmission of information from a Master brain to a Receiver brain.
BBIs consist of two components, the first component, a brain-computer interface (BCI) is capable of detecting neural signals from a Master brain or the Controller, to translate them into computer commands, and the second component, a computer-brain interface (CBI) is responsible for relaying these computer commands to the Receiver brain, the recipient of the information.
Much progress is presently being made towards the conveyance of memory, emotions, or senses between two individuals using thought alone, without the use of the peripheral nervous system. Unfortunately, the performance of these BBIs is limited by technical challenges hindering real-time information transfer involving a lot of data, with the control of locomotion proving particularly difficult due to the frequent starts, stops, and continuous changes in velocity involved.
Using computers to link brains
Now, a study from researchers led by Tsinghua University develops an optical BBIs with the ability to rapidly transmit neural information to enable Master brains to control locomotion in Receiver individuals. The team states they have provided a proof-of-concept for an optical BBI able to transpose instructions regarding the speed of movement from one mouse to another, allowing precise, real-time control of locomotion across animals consisting of an expeditious data transfer rate. The study is published in the journal SCIENCE CHINA Life Sciences.
Previous studies have indicated BBIs have so far been limited by low rates of information transmission to brain circuits, with single-unit recordings riddled with technical discrepancies. EEG recordings are also challenging, proving to be inaccessible to subcortical areas making the precise decoding of the desired intention impossible.
Another hurdle lying in the way of this technology is the need to feed decoded neural signals into correct cell types and brain circuits, with the control of continuous locomotion of a mammal still unattainable. The current study develops an optical BBI with the capacity to enable the rapid transmission of information for the precise control over the movement of one animal by the other.
Brain control of an animal
The current study identifies neuromedin B (NMB) neurons located in the nucleus incertus (NI) as crucial for locomotor speed. Fiber photometry was then used to record the total amount of Ca2+ signals originating from these NI neurons located in the Master mouse brain. These signals were represented by blue laser pulses delivered to the NI of the Recipient mouse brain. Results show this optical BBI directed the Recipient mouse to closely mimic the movements of the Master mouse with information transfer rate many orders of magnitude higher than previously recorded in earlier BBIs.
The lab stresses the importance of identifying the specific neural circuits responsible for the desired action when building nextgen BBIs. They go on to add by recording Ca2+ signals with optics in the NI of a Master mouse brain and converting them to optogenetically stimulate the Recipient’s NI, the BBI directed the Receiver mice to closely mimic the movement of the Controller mice with the data transfer rate approximately two orders of magnitude higher than previous BBIs.
Brain control of larger groups
The team surmises they have engineered an optical brain-to-brain interface supporting swift data transmission for precise locomotion control. For the future, the researchers state the use of BBIs in the military or other situations which may denote silent commands to synchronize the behavior of a larger group of individuals is one of the many potential applications of this promising technology.
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