Motor programme for gait initiation can vary as a function of attentional resources. The objective of the present study was to determine whether alertness, orientation and executive control can modulate cortical activation during step initiation. The attention network test (ANT) was used to control the influence of different attentional components on kinetic characteristics of step initiation and the associated cortical activity. Thirty healthy adults performed ANT combined with step initiation. The step execution time (SET) and anticipatory postural adjustments (APAs) were recorded. Movement-related cortical potentials (MRCPs) and event-related spectral perturbations (ERSPs) after response emission were analysed according to the presence or absence of cueing or conflict resolution. Step reaction time and thus SET were significantly shorter with cueing, whereas APA duration and SET were longer during conflict resolution. Moreover, alertness was related to a higher rate of anticipated responses, and conflicting situations were associated with a greater amount of multiple APAs. Attentional load did not affect MRCPs but ERSPs: trials with a cue showed earlier posterior alpha and beta desynchronisations before APA onset. Furthermore, we found earlier, more pronounced and longer alpha- and beta-band desynchronisations over the sensorimotor cortex for trials with incongruent flankers. Our results showed that attention has an impact on step initiation. A specific pattern of response-locked ERSPs seems to mirror behavioural effects of attentional load on step initiation. This new paradigm combining ANT and step initiation is, therefore, promising to investigate the interaction between attention and gait initiation in pathological populations.
Keywords: Anticipatory postural adjustments; Attention network test; Electroencephalography; Step initiation.