Research Article

Shape perception via a high-channel-count neuroprosthesis in monkey visual cortex

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Science  04 Dec 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6521, pp. 1191-1196
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd7435

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Restoring vision by stimulating the brain

Electrical stimulation of the visual cortex has long been proposed as an approach to restoring vision in blind people. Previous studies positioned electrodes on the surface of the brain and thus required delivery of relatively high currents. However, this approach limits the number of electrodes that can be safely stimulated simultaneously, and such surface electrodes activate several millimeters of cortex, which results in a low spatial resolution. Chen et al. demonstrated that the simultaneous stimulation of multiple intracortical electrodes in the monkey primary visual cortex gives rise to the perception of shape and successive stimulation to the perception of motion (see the Perspective by Beauchamp and Yoshor). This major improvement provides proof of concept for the use of electrical microstimulation to create a form of artificial vision in the blind.

Science, this issue p. 1191; see also p. 1165

Abstract

Blindness affects 40 million people across the world. A neuroprosthesis could one day restore functional vision in the blind. We implanted a 1024-channel prosthesis in areas V1 and V4 of the visual cortex of monkeys and used electrical stimulation to elicit percepts of dots of light (called phosphenes) on hundreds of electrodes, the locations of which matched the receptive fields of the stimulated neurons. Activity in area V4 predicted phosphene percepts that were elicited in V1. We simultaneously stimulated multiple electrodes to impose visible patterns composed of a number of phosphenes. The monkeys immediately recognized them as simple shapes, motions, or letters. These results demonstrate the potential of electrical stimulation to restore functional, life-enhancing vision in the blind.

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