2012;7(11):e49266. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049266. Epub 2012 Nov 8.

    fNIRS exhibits weak tuning to hand movement direction.


    Bernstein Center Freiburg, University of Freiburg, Faculty of Biology, Freiburg, Germany. s.waldert@ucl.ac.uk


    Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) has become an established tool to investigate brain function and is, due to its portability and resistance to electromagnetic noise, an interesting modality for brain-machine interfaces (BMIs). BMIs have been successfully realized using the decoding of movement kinematics from intra-cortical recordings in monkey and human. Recently, it has been shown that hemodynamic brain responses as measured by fMRI are modulated by the direction of hand movements. However, quantitative data on the decoding of movement direction from hemodynamic responses is still lacking and it remains unclear whether this can be achieved with fNIRS, which records signals at a lower spatial resolution but with the advantage of being portable. Here, we recorded brain activity with fNIRS above different cortical areas while subjects performed hand movements in two different directions. We found that hemodynamic signals in contralateral sensorimotor areas vary with the direction of movements, though only weakly. Using these signals, movement direction could be inferred on a single-trial basis with an accuracy of ∼65% on average across subjects. The temporal evolution of decoding accuracy resembled that of typical hemodynamic responses observed in motor experiments. Simultaneous recordings with a head tracking system showed that head movements, at least up to some extent, do not influence the decoding of fNIRS signals. Due to the low accuracy, fNIRS is not a viable alternative for BMIs utilizing decoding of movement direction. However, due to its relative resistance to head movements, it is promising for studies investigating brain activity during motor experiments.

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