A brain-to-brain interface that allows the direct, real-time transfer of sensory and motor information between the brains of two rats is described in Scientific Reports this week. The results demonstrate a proof of concept for what could potentially represent a new form of animal communication.
Miguel Nicolelis and colleagues tested pairs of rats implanted with microwire arrays in the primary motor or somatosensory cortex, the main brain areas associated with voluntary movements and the sense of touch, respectively. One rat, the ‘encoder,’ was trained to perform tasks that required it to select from two choices of tactile or visual stimuli. Its cortical activity was recorded, analyzed and transferred into microstimulation patterns that were delivered to the corresponding brain region of the second rat, the ‘decoder,’ which learned to make similar behavioural decisions guided by the information provided by the encoder rat’s brain. In both tasks, decoder rats performed significantly better than chance, suggesting that the information transfer was accurate and stable. The authors also demonstrate that encoder and decoder rats can be separated by thousands of miles - the information was successfully transferred via the brain-to-brain interface from an encoder rat in Brazil to a decoder rat in North Carolina, USA.
The findings hint that the animals’ brains were coupled into a complex system, the authors speculate, suggesting that brain-to-brain interfaces could one day enable the brains of pairs or networks of animals to exchange, process and store information. Further research is needed to establish how the brain simultaneously integrates information received via the brain-to-brain interface and via natural stimuli.