Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Emad Al-Yahya, Wala’ Mahmoud, Daan Meester, Patrick Esser and Helen Dawes
Current gait control models suggest that independent locomotion depends on central and peripheral mechanisms. However, less information is available on the integration of these mechanisms for adaptive walking. In this cross-sectional study, we investigated gait control mechanisms in people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and healthy older (HO) adults: at self-selected walking speed (SSWS) and at fast walking speed (FWS). We measured effect of additional cognitive task (DT) and increased speed on prefrontal (PFC) and motor cortex (M1) activation, and Soleus H-reflex gain. Under DT-conditions we observed increased activation in PFC and M1. Whilst H-reflex gain decreased with additional cognitive load for both groups and speeds, H-reflex gain was lower in PD compared to HO while walking under ST condition at SSWS. Attentional load in PFC excites M1, which in turn increases inhibition on H-reflex activity during walking and reduces activity and sensitivity of peripheral reflex during the stance phase of gait. Importantly this effect on sensitivity was greater in HO. We have previously observed that the PFC copes with increased attentional load in young adults with no impact on peripheral reflexes and we suggest that gait instability in PD may in part be due to altered sensorimotor functioning reducing the sensitivity of peripheral reflexes.