Overground Walking Decreases Alpha Activity and Entrains Eye Movements in Humans

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 14 (2020)
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Experiments in animal models have shown that running increases neuronal activity in early visual areas in light as well as in darkness. This suggests that visual processing is influenced by locomotion independent of visual input. Combining mobile electroencephalography, motion- and eye-tracking, we investigated the influence of overground free walking on cortical alpha activity and eye movements in healthy humans. Alpha activity has been considered a valuable marker of inhibition of sensory processing and shown to negatively correlate with neuronal firing rates. We found that walking led to a decrease in alpha activity over occipital cortex compared to standing. This decrease was present during walking in darkness as well as during light. Importantly, eye movements could not explain the change in alpha activity. Nevertheless, we found that walking and eye related movements were linked. While the blink rate increased with increasing walking speed independent of light or darkness, saccade rate was only significantly linked to walking speed in the light. Pupil size, on the other hand, was larger during darkness than during light, but only showed a modulation by walking in darkness. Analyzing the effect of walking with respect to the stride cycle, we further found that blinks and saccades preferentially occurred during the double support phase of walking. Alpha power, as shown previously, was lower during the swing phase than during the double support phase. We however could exclude the possibility that the alpha modulation was introduced by a walking movement induced change in electrode impedance. Overall, our work indicates that the human visual system is influenced by the current locomotion state of the body. This influence affects eye movement pattern as well as neuronal activity in sensory areas and might form part of an implicit strategy to optimally extract sensory information during locomotion.



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