Restricted vision increases sensorimotor cortex involvement in human walking

J Neurophysiol. 2017 Oct 1;118(4):1943-1951. doi: 10.1152/jn.00926.2016. Epub 2017 Jul 5.


This study aimed to determine whether there is electrocortical evidence of augmented participation of sensory brain areas in walking modulation during walking with eyes closed. Healthy subjects (n = 10) walked on a treadmill at 1 m/s while alternating 5 min of walking with the eyes open or closed while we recorded ground reaction forces (GRFs) and high-density scalp electroencephalography (EEG). We applied independent component analysis to parse EEG signals into maximally independent component (IC) processes and then computed equivalent current dipoles for each IC. We clustered cortical source ICs and analyzed event-related spectral perturbations synchronized to gait events. Our results indicated that walking with eyes closed reduced the first peak of the vertical GRFs and induced shorter stride duration. Regarding the EEG, we found that walking with eyes closed induced significantly increased relative theta desynchronization in the frontal and premotor cortex during stance, as well as greater desynchronization from theta to beta bands during transition to single support for both left and right somatosensory cortex. These results suggest a phase-specific increased participation of brain areas dedicated to sensory processing and integration when vision is not available for locomotor guidance. Furthermore, the lack of vision demands higher neural processing related to motor planning and execution. Our findings provide evidence supporting the use of eyes-closed tasks in clinical practice, such as gait rehabilitation and improvements in balance control, as there is higher demand for additional sensory integration for achieving postural control.NEW & NOTEWORTHY We measured electrocortical dynamics in sighted individuals while walking with eyes open and eyes closed to induce the participation of other sensory systems in postural control. Our findings show that walking with visual restriction increases the participation of brain areas dedicated to sensory processing, motor planning, and execution. These results confirm the essential participation of supraspinal inputs to postural control in human locomotion, supporting the use of eyes-closed tasks in clinical practice.

Keywords: EEG; eyes closed; independent component analysis; sensory reweighting; walking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Beta Rhythm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / physiology*
  • Theta Rhythm
  • Vision, Ocular*
  • Visual Perception
  • Walking / physiology*