Electronic bypass of spinal lesions: Activation of lower motor neurons directly driven by cortical neural signals

Yan Li, Monzurul Alam, Shanshan Guo, Kh Ting, Jufang He

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Lower motor neurons in the spinal cord lose supraspinal inputs after complete spinal cord injury, leading to a loss of volitional control below the injury site. Extensive locomotor training with spinal cord stimulation can restore locomotion function after spinal cord injury in humans and animals. However, this locomotion is non-voluntary, meaning that subjects cannot control stimulation via their natural "intent". A recent study demonstrated an advanced system that triggers a stimulator using forelimb stepping electromyographic patterns to restore quadrupedal walking in rats with spinal cord transection. However, this indirect source of "intent" may mean that other non-stepping forelimb activities may false-trigger the spinal stimulator and thus produce unwanted hindlimb movements. Methods. We hypothesized that there are distinguishable neural activities in the primary motor cortex during treadmill walking, even after low-thoracic spinal transection in adult guinea pigs. We developed an electronic spinal bridge, called "Motolink", which detects these neural patterns and triggers a "spinal" stimulator for hindlimb movement. This hardware can be head-mounted or carried in a backpack. Neural data were processed in real-time and transmitted to a computer for analysis by an embedded processor. Off-line neural spike analysis was conducted to calculate and preset the spike threshold for "Motolink" hardware. Results: We identified correlated activities of primary motor cortex neurons during treadmill walking of guinea pigs with spinal cord transection. These neural activities were used to predict the kinematic states of the animals. The appropriate selection of spike threshold value enabled the "Motolink" system to detect the neural "intent" of walking, which triggered electrical stimulation of the spinal cord and induced stepping-like hindlimb movements. Conclusion: We present a direct cortical "intent"-driven electronic spinal bridge to restore hindlimb locomotion after complete spinal cord injury.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2014


  • Extracellular recording
  • Functional electrical stimulation
  • Intracortical microstimulation
  • Intraspinal microstimulation
  • Locomotion
  • Multielectrode array
  • Neural spikes
  • Neuromotor prostheses
  • Spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Health Informatics


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