Interface neuroélectronique pour guider la plasticité et promouvoir la récupération motrice après lésion neurologique


Christian Ethier

CIUSSS de la Capitale-Nationale


Domaine : neurosciences, santé mentale et toxicomanies

Programme chercheurs-boursiers - Junior 1

Concours 2017-2018

Strokes and spinal cord injuries can damage nervous circuits controlling movements and cause important motor deficits. Our brain has a wonderful ability, neuroplasticity, which allows it to reorganize and rewire itself to compensate for lesions. Physical therapy, for instance, can guide neuroplasticity and promote motor recovery. The process encourages the repeated execution of specific exercises which, like the repetition needed to learn piano or memorize multiplication tables, cause the consolidation of the relevant connections within the brain. However, motor deficits following severe strokes or spinal cord injuries can significantly limit the ability of the affected person to perform the exercises in the first place. As a result, the most affected individuals have the poorest recovery prognosis.

New developments in the area of neuroelectronic interfaces have led to a new promising research avenue: therapeutic neuroprostheses. Neuroprostheses are electronic systems that can reconnect the brain with the muscles after lesions. They detect movement intent from the brain activity and activate muscles with electrical stimulation accordingly. This design confers them a great potential to guide neuroplasticity. Indeed, their repeated use could strengthen the  residual connections between the brain and the muscles in a much more precise and effective manner than conventional physical therapy.

However, we still know very little about how to artificially control neuroplasticity to promote therapeutic effects. I am proposing animal experiments, which will allow us to understand the rules and mechanisms governing associative plasticity. I will use state-of-the-art electronic and optogenetic technologies to identify the most promising approaches to promote neuroplasticity, strengthen the connections between the brain and the muscles, and improve the motor recovery.