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Brain control can be a neural workout

Seattle -- University of Washington scientists say they've discovered interacting with brain-computer interfaces can produce stronger brain signals.

The research team, consisting of computer scientists, physicists, physiologists and neurosurgeons, said harnessing brain signals to control keyboards, robots or prosthetic devices is an active area of medical research. And now they've discovered a human brain hooked up to a computer shows the two can quickly adapt to each other -- possibly to the brain's benefit.

The scientists said they studied signals on the brain's surface while a person used imagined movements to control a cursor and found that watching a cursor respond to one's thoughts prompts brain signals to become stronger than those generated in day-to-day life.

"Bodybuilders get muscles that are larger than normal by lifting weights," said doctoral student Kai Miller, the study's lead author. "We get brain activity that's larger than normal by interacting with brain-computer interfaces. By using these interfaces, patients create super-active populations of brain cells."

The team said its findings hold promise for rehabilitating patients after a stroke or other neurological damage. It also suggests a human brain could quickly become adept at manipulating an external device such as a computer interface or a prosthetic limb.

The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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