Characterizing neurocognitive impairments in Parkinson’s with mobile EEG when walking and stepping over obstacles

Magda Mustile*, Dimitrios Kourtis, Martin Edwards, Simon Ladouce, Daniele Volpe, Manuela Pilleri, Elisa Pelosi, Gemma Learmouth, David I. Donaldson, Magdalena Ietswaart

*Corresponding author for this work

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The neural correlates that help us understand the challenges that Parkinson’s patients face when negotiating their environment remain under-researched. This deficit in knowledge reflects the methodological constraints of traditional neuroimaging techniques, which include the need to remain still. As a result, much of our understanding of motor disorders is still based on animal models. Daily life challenges such as tripping and falling over obstacles represent one of the main causes of hospitalization for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Here, we report the neural correlates of naturalistic ambulatory obstacle avoidance in Parkinson’s disease patients using mobile EEG. We examined 14 medicated patients with Parkinson’s disease and 17 neurotypical control participants. Brain activity was recorded while participants walked freely, and while they walked and adjusted their gait to step over expected obstacles (preset adjustment) or unexpected obstacles (online adjustment) displayed on the floor. EEG analysis revealed attenuated cortical activity in Parkinson’s patients compared to neurotypical participants in theta (4–7 Hz) and beta (13–35 Hz) frequency bands. The theta power increase when planning an online adjustment to step over unexpected obstacles was reduced in Parkinson’s patients compared to neurotypical participants, indicating impaired proactive cognitive control of walking that updates the online action plan when unexpected changes occur in the environment. Impaired action planning processes were further evident in Parkinson’s disease patients’ diminished beta power suppression when preparing motor adaptation to step over obstacles, regardless of the expectation manipulation, compared to when walking freely. In addition, deficits in reactive control mechanisms in Parkinson’s disease compared to neurotypical participants were evident from an attenuated beta rebound signal after crossing an obstacle. Reduced modulation in the theta frequency band in the resetting phase across conditions also suggests a deficit in the evaluation of action outcomes in Parkinson’s disease. Taken together, the neural markers of cognitive control of walking observed in Parkinson’s disease reveal a pervasive deficit of motor–cognitive control, involving impairments in the proactive and reactive strategies used to avoid obstacles while walking. As such, this study identified neural markers of the motor deficits in Parkinson’s disease and revealed patients’ difficulties in adapting movements both before and after avoiding obstacles in their path.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfcad326
Number of pages16
JournalBrain Communications
Issue number6
Early online date28 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023


  • Mobile EEG
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Obstacle avoidance
  • Cognitive control


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