Rats Communicate Via Brain-To-Brain Interface
Miguel A. L. Nicolelis, a 2010 NIH Director’s Pioneer Awardee from Duke University, and his colleagues, have connected the brains of rat pairs through the internet and shown that the rats can share sensory information, acting as a dyad rather than strictly as individuals. Dr. Nicolelis’ lab is well known for their work on brain-to-machine interface (BTM), the current paradigm used to help develop technology that allows an amputee’s brain to control a prosthetic limb. The team of researchers took the brain interfacing concept further and connected pairs of rat brains using a new paradigm they termed brain-to-brain interface (BTBI). This BTBI enabled the rat pairs to act as a dyad exchanging sensorimotor information to achieve simple behavioral goals. The researchers implanted microelectrode bundles in the cortical area in the brains of rats. These microelectrodes allowed the researchers to record the neural activity of an “encoder” rat acting out a specific behavior and directly transmit this recorded signal to a “decoder” rat’s brain using intracortical microstimulation (ICMS), the stimulation of individual nerve cells using a small electric current, to inform the decoder rat to complete a specific activity.
The encoder rat was trained to press one of two levers in response to a light stimulus above one lever. While the encoder rat pressed this lever, the neural activity was recorded and transformed into ICMS which was then applied to the brain of the decoder rat informing the decoder rat of which lever to press. If the decoder rat pressed the correct lever, both rats received a reward. If the decoder rat pressed the incorrect lever, neither rat received a reward. The researchers took this experiment a step further and were able to perform this experiment in real time, with the encoder rat located in Natal, Brazil, and the decoder rat located at Duke University in North Carolina, transmitting the ICMS over the internet. In a second set of experiments, the scientists trained the encoder rat to determine the width of an opening (wide or narrow) using its whiskers and to push either the right or left lever, respectively. Again, the neural activity of the encoder rat’s brain during this task was recorded and transmitted by ICMS to the decoder rat informing the decoder of which lever to press. In both activities, the decoder rats pressed the correct lever significantly more often than rats who were not receiving neural activity information via ICMS. Further, the encoder rat changed both its behavior and its neural signals in response to feedback from the decoder rat’s behavior, indicating that the rat pairs were acting as dyads indicating a more complex system of communication. The researchers also mechanically stimulated both the encoder and decoder rat’s whiskers and recorded the neural response to this stimulation. They then stimulated the encoder rat’s whiskers, recorded the activity and sent it the decoder rat’s brain using ICMS and recorded the neural activity of the decoder rats brain in response. Passive whisker stimulation in either the encoder or decoder rats induced significant neural activity in the decoder rat’s brain.
Through this set of experiments the researchers demonstrated that tactile and motor information can be recorded in real-time from a rat’s brains and transmitted directly into another rat’s brain using BTBI. In this BTBI rat dyad, the decoder rat relied exclusively on the neural patterns generated by the encoder rat in order to reproduce the encoder rat’s behavioral choice. The ICMS patterns reflecting the neural activity in the encoder rat’s brain was sufficient to inform decoder rats to perform both tactile and motor activities significantly above chance in real-time. The potential impact of this research is not limited to behavioral information exchange of animal dyads, but could be expanded to create a multi-brain system where groups of interconnected brain networks could communicate through large scale BTBI.
Read the Duke University Press Release here
M. Pais-Vieira, M. Lebedev, C. Kunicki, J. Wang, M. A. L. Nicolelis, A Brain-to-Brain Interface for Real-Time Sharing of Sensorimotor Information. Sci. Rep. 3, (2013). PMID: 23448946