BRAIN researchers develop a wearable system to record brain activity in freely moving humans

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A team of BRAIN researchers describe a newly developed technology used to record brain activity in freely moving humans, called Neuro-stack.  

In a recent Nature Neuroscience paper involving patients being treated for epilepsy, research teams led by Nanthia Suthana, Ph.D. and Dejan Markovic Ph.D., have developed a technology called Neuro-stack that can record from individual neurons within people as they move freely around their environment. Using Neuro-stack, the researchers were able to perform closed-loop brain stimulation while simultaneously recording data from both individual neurons and local field potentials. This advance, which was partially funded through the National Institutes of Health’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative, will help improve our understanding of how the nervous system works through its ability to capture behavioral information coupled with single-neuron recording data from humans outside the constraints of the research lab.   

In the past, this type of single-neuron and local field potential recording in humans required participants to be kept immobile due to safety concerns and the need for bulky equipment. Thanks to advances in miniaturization, the Neuro-stack system is small enough to be held in the hand and can be worn on the body. This allows the participant to move around their environment, an experimental paradigm that previously could only be used with animals. Because humans are uniquely able to respond to researchers’ questions and to report how they are feeling throughout experiments, this opens the door to a variety of systems neuroscience studies that could not be conducted previously.   

It is important to note that some limitations remain with this technology. Participants still require external electrodes for clinical monitoring purposes (e.g., for epilepsy), which typically requires patients to be tethered to recording systems. This means that study participants cannot be untethered for the majority of the time, and patient safety remains of paramount importance. Despite these limitations, the Neuro-stack system represents a significant technological advance that can bring to human neuroscience an in vivo approach that is experimentally advantageous in non-human animals.  

This study was published in Nature Medicine and was funded by the NIH BRAIN Initiative (NS103802, NS103780), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NS084017, NS126715), the National Institute of Mental Health (MH125534), DARPA, and the McKnight Foundation.      

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