Network-based brain–computer interfaces: principles and applications


Brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) make possible to interact with the external environment by decoding the mental intention of individuals. BCIs can therefore be used to address basic neuroscience questions but also to unlock a variety of applications from exoskeleton control to neurofeedback rehabilitation. In general, BCI usability depends on the ability to comprehensively characterize brain functioning and correctly identify the user’s mental state. To this end, much of the efforts have focused on improving the classification algorithms taking into account localized brain activities as input features. Despite considerable improvement BCI performance is still unstable and, as a matter of fact, current features represent oversimplified descriptors of brain functioning. In the last decade, growing evidence has shown that the brain works as a networked system composed of multiple specialized and spatially distributed areas that dynamically integrate information. While more complex, looking at how remote brain regions functionally interact represents a grounded alternative to better describe brain functioning. Thanks to recent advances in network science, i.e. a modern field that draws on graph theory, statistical mechanics, data mining and inferential modeling, scientists have now powerful means to characterize complex brain networks derived from neuroimaging data. Notably, summary features can be extracted from brain networks to quantitatively measure specific organizational properties across a variety of topological scales. In this topical review, we aim to provide the state-of-the-art supporting the development of a network theoretic approach as a promising tool for understanding BCIs and improve usability.

Journal of Neural Engineering