Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Jesse V. Jacobs

Second Advisor

Josh C. Bongard


Mobility is essential for the independent lifestyle. However, as the US population ages, challenges to mobility start to arise, among them just the aging itself which leads to decreased postural stability, falls and the second most common neurodegenerative disease, that is Parkinson’s disease (PD). We decided to investigate step initiation as it is crucial to mobility: walking is not possible without the first step.

Step initiation is impaired in PD. However, the impact of PD on the neural mechanisms of step initiation when some of the step parameters are unpredictable remains unexplored. Cortical preparation for step initiation can be assessed by beta event-related desynchronization (ERD) derived from electroencephalography (EEG) recordings. We hypothesized that subjects with PD would exhibit less cortical modulation between conditions of forward step initiation with and without prior knowledge of limb choice. Further, we hypothesized that decreased cortical modulation in PD would associate with a higher impairment of motor performance. Results identified that the group with PD exhibited decreased beta ERD amplitudes that were similar regardless of condition, whereas control subjects modulated beta ERD amplitudes between conditions, particularly in early stages of pre-movement processing in areas overlying sensory cortex. Subjects with PD presented with delayed and reduced postural preparation with increased step target error across both conditions and exhibited a greater incidence of multiple anticipatory postural adjustments (APAs) in the predictable relative to the unpredictable condition. Delayed postural preparation significantly correlated with lower amplitudes of beta ERD. We concluded that diminished early pre-movement processing over sensory cortex was concomitant with poor pre-selection of the stepping limb in predictable conditions and that a generally diminished amplitude of cortical pre-movement processing relates to delayed step initiation in people with PD.

Furthermore, impaired mobility accompanies healthy aging, but there is a need for deeper understanding of how aging changes central control of motor behavior. Using previous study’s method, we compared cortical preparation for step initiation using beta ERD in young and older healthy subjects performing forward steps with and without prior knowledge of limb choice. Our results show that older subjects exhibited increased beta ERD amplitudes before the step regardless of whether they were informed of limb choice or not. Moreover, older subjects exhibited early increases in beta ERD in the “sensory” cluster of electrodes, but only when full limb-choice information was available. Behaviorally, the older subjects also exhibited shortened and increased anticipatory postural adjustments which led to earlier step initiation and similar swing-foot velocities but was also accompanied by greater target step placement errors and decreased postural stability. For the older group, condition-related increases in beta ERD amplitudes and stability correlated with condition-related prolongation of APA durations. We conclude that older subjects exhibited a spectrum across two strategies: (1) a “fast” strategy associated with decreased neural preparation that trades shortened step preparation and higher swing-foot velocity for target step errors and lowered postural stability; and (2) an “accurate” strategy associated with greater neural preparation, longer step-preparation time, and higher stability during step execution.

In conclusion, this thesis provides more support for beta ERD as a useful tool for studying cortical preparation non-invasively. We have also established the importance of the signals recorded by “sensory” clusters: in subjects with PD the absence of beta ERD similar to the control group was associated with impaired motor behavior even when conditions were predictable. Similarly, a part of the older group seemed to pre-potentiate its cortex lying beneath the cluster of “sensory” electrodes which was associated with more safe and accurate steps. Further investigations should focus on the importance of sensorimotor integration and its’ changes due to PD or healthy aging and beta ERD may be an excellent tool for this task.



Number of Pages

132 p.

Available for download on Monday, August 17, 2020