Date of Award

Spring 2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Engineering - (Ph.D.)

Department

Biomedical Engineering

First Advisor

Sergei Adamovich

Second Advisor

William Corson Hunter

Third Advisor

Richard A. Foulds

Fourth Advisor

Alma S. Merians

Fifth Advisor

Eugene Tunik

Abstract

The goal of rehabilitation is to reduce impairment and provide functional improvements resulting in quality participation in activities of life, Plasticity and motor learning principles provide inspiration for therapeutic interventions including movement repetition in a virtual reality environment, The objective of this research work was to investigate functional specific measurements (kinematic, behavioral) and neural correlates of motor experience of hand gesture activities in virtual environments stimulating sensory experience (VE) using a hand agent model. The fMRI compatible Virtual Environment Sign Language Instruction (VESLI) System was designed and developed to provide a number of rehabilitation and measurement features, to identify optimal learning conditions for individuals and to track changes in performance over time. Therapies and measurements incorporated into VESLI target and track specific impairments underlying dysfunction. The goal of improved measurement is to develop targeted interventions embedded in higher level tasks and to accurately track specific gains to understand the responses to treatment, and the impact the response may have upon higher level function such as participation in life. To further clarify the biological model of motor experiences and to understand the added value and role of virtual sensory stimulation and feedback which includes seeing one's own hand movement, functional brain mapping was conducted with simultaneous kinematic analysis in healthy controls and in stroke subjects. It is believed that through the understanding of these neural activations, rehabilitation strategies advantaging the principles of plasticity and motor learning will become possible. The present research assessed successful practice conditions promoting gesture learning behavior in the individual. For the first time, functional imaging experiments mapped neural correlates of human interactions with complex virtual reality hands avatars moving synchronously with the subject's own hands, Findings indicate that healthy control subjects learned intransitive gestures in virtual environments using the first and third person avatars, picture and text definitions, and while viewing visual feedback of their own hands, virtual hands avatars, and in the control condition, hidden hands. Moreover, exercise in a virtual environment with a first person avatar of hands recruited insular cortex activation over time, which might indicate that this activation has been associated with a sense of agency. Sensory augmentation in virtual environments modulated activations of important brain regions associated with action observation and action execution. Quality of the visual feedback was modulated and brain areas were identified where the amount of brain activation was positively or negatively correlated with the visual feedback, When subjects moved the right hand and saw unexpected response, the left virtual avatar hand moved, neural activation increased in the motor cortex ipsilateral to the moving hand This visual modulation might provide a helpful rehabilitation therapy for people with paralysis of the limb through visual augmentation of skills. A model was developed to study the effects of sensorimotor experience in virtual environments, and findings of the effect of sensorimotor experience in virtual environments upon brain activity and related behavioral measures. The research model represents a significant contribution to neuroscience research, and translational engineering practice, A model of neural activations correlated with kinematics and behavior can profoundly influence the delivery of rehabilitative services in the coming years by giving clinicians a framework for engaging patients in a sensorimotor environment that can optimally facilitate neural reorganization.

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