Gait impairment during complex walking in older adults is thought to result from a progressive failure to compensate for deteriorating peripheral inputs by central neural processes. It is the primary hypothesis of this paper that failure of higher cerebral adaptations may already be present in middle-aged adults who do not present observable gait impairments. We therefore compared metabolic brain activity during steering of gait (i.e., complex locomotion) and straight walking (i.e., simple locomotion) in young and middle-aged individuals. Cerebral distribution of [18F]-fluorodeoxyglucose, a marker of brain synaptic activity, was assessed during over ground straight walking and steering of gait using positron emission tomography in seven young adults (aged 24±3) and seven middle-aged adults (aged 59±3). Brain regions involved in steering of gait (posterior parietal cortex, superior frontal gyrus, and cerebellum) are retained in middle-age. However, despite similar walking performance, there are age-related differences in the distribution of [ 18F]-FDG during steering: middle-aged adults have (i) increased activation of precentral and fusiform gyri, (ii) reduced deactivation of multisensory cortices (inferior frontal, postcentral, fusiform gyri), and (iii) reduced activation of the middle frontal gyrus and cuneus. Our results suggest that pre-clinical decline in central sensorimotor processing in middle-age is observable during complex walking.
We investigated how subjects with cerebellar ataxia (CA) adapt their postural stability and alignment to a slow and small tilt of the support surface allowing for online postural corrections. Eight subjects with CA and eight age- and gender-matched healthy control subjects participated in the study. Subjects stood eyes closed for 1 min after which the support surface was tilted 5° toes-up at a ramp velocity of 1°/s. The toes-up position was held for 2.5 min after which the surface rotated back down to level with identical tilt characteristics. As reflected by the large number of falls, subjects with CA had marked difficulty adapting their posture to the up-moving incline in contrast to control subjects. Subjects with CA who lost their balance had faster trunk velocity and excessive backward trunk reorientation beginning within the first second after onset of the tilting surface. In contrast, the down-moving tilt to level did not result in instability in CA subjects. These results suggest that instability and falls associated with CA derive from an inability to maintain trunk orientation to vertical while standing on a slow-moving or unstable surface. This study underscores the importance of the cerebellum in the online sensory control of the upper body orientation during small amplitude and slow velocity movements of the support surface.
Linear and angular control of trunk and leg motion during curvilinear navigation was investigated in subjects with cerebellar ataxia and age-matched control subjects. Subjects walked with eyes open around a 1.2-m circle. The relationship of linear to angular motion was quantified by determining the ratios of trunk linear velocity to trunk angular velocity and foot linear position to foot angular position. Errors in walking radius (the ratio of linear to angular motion) also were quantified continuously during the circular walk. Relative variability of linear and angular measures was compared using coefficients of variation (CoV). Patterns of variability were compared using power spectral analysis for the trunk and auto-covariance analysis for the feet. Errors in radius were significantly increased in patients with cerebellar damage as compared to controls. Cerebellar subjects had significantly larger CoV of feet and trunk in angular, but not linear, motion. Control subjects also showed larger CoV in angular compared to linear motion of the feet and trunk. Angular and linear components of stepping differed in that angular, but not linear, foot placement had a negative correlation from one stride to the next. Thus, walking in a circle was associated with more, and a different type of, variability in angular compared to linear motion. Results are consistent with increased difficulty of, and role of the cerebellum in, control of angular trunk and foot motion for curvilinear locomotion.