Scientists watch as mice mouse around an onscreen maze.
- Brain-machine interfaces allow humans—and mice—to interact with onscreen objects.
- Such interfaces may gain wide applications as they become more capable.
- Scientists want to better understand how they work, and are exploring how mice operate them.
BMI insight<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk5MTE5Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTkwMjA0M30.I8B9kKgtacoiuc1gADkhf_qcR6kj-0_WVppqVd_BoQw/img.jpg?width=980" id="b510a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8b01810a56f080fa8fa0278f83fc2400" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="954" />
Credit: Kurashova/Adobe Stock<p>According to co-author <a href="https://www.sainsburywellcome.org/web/people/tom-mrsic-flogel" target="_blank">Tom Mrsic-Flogel</a>, also of SWC, "Right now, BMIs tend to be difficult for humans to use and it takes a long time to learn how to control a robotic arm for example. Once we understand the neural circuits supporting how intentional control is learned, which this work is starting to elucidate, we will hopefully be able to make it easier for people to use BMIs."</p><p>In addition to understanding BMIs better, their use in research may help scientists unravel at least one mystery of the mind. Working out how objects are represented in the brain has been tricky. When tests subjects interact with objects, scans simultaneously show signals representing that interaction—a motor process—and thoughts about the object. It's hard to tell which is which. The motor signals are removed when interaction with an object is strictly virtual, as when using a BMI.</p>
As mice mouse<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk5MTIwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzI1NzIwMX0.5MiiNDqmzNWFA3asTjNhEzOlg2LFNgUfG-YQtWEcLik/img.png?width=980" id="e6354" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c8daa1d44947780f2a5149bab66e5ba9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="688" />
Credit: Clancy, et al./Neuron<p>In the study, BMI were affixed to the skulls of seven female mice who were subsequently trained to use a mouse to move an onscreen cursor to a target location in order to receive a reward. The researchers' aim was to investigate intentionality.</p><p>As the mice moused, the researchers used wide field brain imaging to observe their entire dorsal cortexes. This provided an overview of the area that would allow the scientists to see which regions of the brain exhibited activity.</p><p>Not surprisingly, visual cortical areas were active. More of a surprise was the involvement of the anteromedial cortex, the rodent equivalent of the human parietal cortex that's associated with intention.</p><p>"Researchers have been studying the parietal cortex in humans for a long time," says Clancy. "However, we weren't necessarily expecting this area to pop out in our unbiased screen of the mouse brain. There seems to be something special about parietal cortex as it sits between sensory and motor areas in the brain and may act as a way station between them."</p><p>That "station" may enable a continual back-and-forth between the regions. Says the paper, "Thus, animals learning neuroprosthetic control of external objects must engage in continuous self-monitoring to assess the contingency between their neural activity and its outcome, preventing them from executing a habitual or fixed motor pattern, and encouraging animals to learn arbitrary new sensorimotor mappings on the fly."</p><p>The parietal cortex is an excellent candidate for this job, say the authors: "Parietal activity has been found to be involved in representing task rules, the value of competing actions, and visually guided real-time motor plan updating, both in humans and non-human primates."</p>
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Mice and other rodents are a staple of laboratory research. In fact, mice are the most commonly used vertebrate species. They are popular because you can get them easily and cheaply, they are small, reproduce quickly, share 99% of their genes with humans, and can be utilized to study genetic human diseases. But studies that rely on mice may potentially be difficult to replicate due to the differing gut contents of the rodents.