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Stanford researchers reveal more about how our brains control our arms


Recording the neural activity of monkeys as they plan to reach, or just react, will help engineers design better brain-controlled prosthetic limbs.

“Ready, set, go.

Sometimes that’s how our brains work. When we anticipate a physical act, such as reaching for the keys we noticed on the table, the neurons that control the task adopt a state of readiness, like sprinters bent into a crouch.

Other times, however, our neurons must simply react, such as if someone were to toss us the keys without gesturing first.

How do the neurons in the brain control planned versus unplanned arm movements?

Krishna Shenoy, a Stanford professor of electrical engineering, wanted to answer that question as part of his group’s ongoing efforts to develop and improve brain-controlled prosthetic devices.

In a paper published in the journal Neuron, Shenoy and first author Katherine Cora Ames, a doctoral student in the Neurosciences Graduate Program, present a mathematical analysis of the brain activity of monkeys as they make anticipated and unanticipated reaching motions."

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The video shown with this story won an award in the NSF – 2013 Video & Poster Competition.