Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) based on real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rtfMRI) are currently explored in the context of developing alternative (motor-independent) communication and control means for the severely disabled. In such BCI systems, the user encodes a particular intention (e.g., an answer to a question or an intended action) by evoking specific mental activity resulting in a distinct brain state that can be decoded from fMRI activation. One goal in this context is to increase the degrees of freedom in encoding different intentions, i.e., to allow the BCI user to choose from as many options as possible. Recently, the ability to voluntarily modulate spatial and/or temporal blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD)-signal features have been explored implementing different mental tasks and/or different encoding time intervals, respectively. Our two-session fMRI feasibility study systematically investigated for the first time the possibility of using magnitudinal BOLD-signal features for intention encoding. Particularly, in our novel paradigm, participants (n = 10) were asked to alternately self-regulate their regional brain-activation level to 30%, 60% or 90% of their maximal capacity by applying a selected activation strategy (i.e., performing a mental task, e.g., inner speech) and modulation strategies (e.g., using different speech rates) suggested by the experimenters. In a second step, we tested the hypothesis that the additional availability of feedback information on the current BOLD-signal level within a region of interest improves the gradual-self regulation performance. Therefore, participants were provided with neurofeedback in one of the two fMRI sessions. Our results show that the majority of the participants were able to gradually self-regulate regional brain activation to at least two target levels even in the absence of neurofeedback. When provided with continuous feedback on their current BOLD-signal level, most participants further enhanced their gradual self-regulation ability. Our findings were observed across a wide variety of mental tasks and across clinical MR field strengths (i.e., at 1.5T and 3T), indicating that these findings are robust and can be generalized across mental tasks and scanner types. The suggested novel parametric activation paradigm enriches the spectrum of current rtfMRI-neurofeedback and BCI methodology and has considerable potential for fundamental and clinical neuroscience applications.
|Publication status||Published - 2018|