Prefrontal Cortex Activated Bilaterally by a Tilt Board Balance Task: A Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Study in a Semi-Immersive Virtual Reality Environment

Brain Topogr. 2014 May;27(3):353-65. doi: 10.1007/s10548-013-0320-z. Epub 2013 Oct 8.


The aim of this study was to assess the prefrontal cortex (PFC) oxygenation response to a 5-min incremental tilt board balance task (ITBBT) in a semi-immersive virtual reality (VR) environment driven by a depth-sensing camera. It was hypothesized that the PFC would be bilaterally activated in response to the increase of the ITBBT difficulty, given the PFC involvement in the allocation of the attentional resources to maintain postural control. Twenty-two healthy male subjects were asked to use medial-lateral postural sways to maintain their equilibrium on a virtual tilt board (VTB) balancing over a pivot. When the subject was unable to maintain the VTB angle within ± 35° the VTB became red (error). An eight-channel fNIRS system was employed for measuring changes in PFC oxygenated-deoxygenated hemoglobin (O2Hb-HHb, respectively). Results revealed that the number of the performed board sways and errors augmented with the increasing of the ITBBT difficulty. A PFC activation was observed with a tendency to plateau for both O2Hb-HHb changes within the last 2 min of the task. A significant main effect of the level of difficulty was found in O2Hb and HHb (p < 0.001). The study has demonstrated that the oxygenation increased over the PFC while the subject was performing an ITBBT in a semi-immersive VR environment. This increase was modulated by the task difficulty, suggesting that the PFC is bilaterally involved in attention-demanding tasks. This task could be considered useful for diagnostic testing and functional neurorehabilitation given its adaptability in elderly and in patients with movement disorders.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Oxyhemoglobins / metabolism
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Tilt-Table Test
  • User-Computer Interface


  • Hemoglobins
  • Oxyhemoglobins