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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 Sep 19;370(1677):20140209. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0209.

Biological and bionic hands: natural neural coding and artificial perception.

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Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637, USA


The first decade and a half of the twenty-first century brought about two major innovations in neuroprosthetics: the development of anthropomorphic robotic limbs that replicate much of the function of a native human arm and the refinement of algorithms that decode intended movements from brain activity. However, skilled manipulation of objects requires somatosensory feedback, for which vision is a poor substitute. For upper-limb neuroprostheses to be clinically viable, they must therefore provide for the restoration of touch and proprioception. In this review, I discuss efforts to elicit meaningful tactile sensations through stimulation of neurons in somatosensory cortex. I focus on biomimetic approaches to sensory restoration, which leverage our current understanding about how information about grasped objects is encoded in the brain of intact individuals. I argue that not only can sensory neuroscience inform the development of sensory neuroprostheses, but also that the converse is true: stimulating the brain offers an exceptional opportunity to causally interrogate neural circuits and test hypotheses about natural neural coding.


biomimicry; neuroprosthetics; proprioception; somatosensory cortex; touch

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