Comparison of Discrete-Trial-Based SMR and SCP Training and the Interrelationship Between SCP and SMR Networks: Implications for Brain–Computer Interfaces and Neurofeedback

Michiel Kleinnijenhuis, Martijn Arns, Desirée Spronk, Rien Breteler, Jacques Duysens


Background. Operant conditioning of one’s slow cortical potential (SCP) or sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) can be used to control epilepsy or to manipulate external devices, as applied in BCI (Brain-Computer Interface). A commonly accepted view that both SCP and SMR are reflections of central arousal suggests a functional relationship between SCP and SMR networks. Method. The operant conditioning of SCP or SMR was tested with a single electroencephalographic (EEG) channel wireless biofeedback system. A series of trainings taught 19 participants to control SCP or SMR over vertex during 20 neurofeedback sessions. Each session consisted of 96 trials to decrease cortical arousal (SCP positivity=SMR enhancement) and 64 trials to increase cortical arousal (SCP negativity=SMR suppression). In each trial, participants were required to exceed an individual threshold level of the feedback parameter relative to a 500-msec prefeedback baseline and to hold this level for 2 sec (SCP) or 0.5 sec (SMR) to obtain reinforcement. Results. Ten of the 19 participants achieved control over their EEG. In the SCP trained group, 4 of 9 participants increased the differentiation between their SCP responses on positivity-required versus negativity-required trials. SMR suppression and enhancement was achieved by 3 and 4 of the 10 SMR-trained participants. The SMR-trained responders did not show differentiation in their SMR responses, but did show a differentiation in their SCP response—while trained on SMR. Conclusions. The results showed the proposed method was successful to teach control of SCP or SMR. Bidirectional control was very difficult to achieve with the present SMR training procedure. SCP positivity and SMR enhancement were easier to learn. The results suggest that SMR training modulates excitability thresholds in the striatal-thalamocortical motor loop, whereas changes in the loop’s excitability thresholds by SCP training do not affect the thalamic bursting that underlies the SMR.

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