The ability to safely negotiate the world on foot takes years to develop in human infants, reflecting the huge cognitive demands associated with real-time dynamic planning and control of walking. Despite the importance of walking, surprisingly little is known about the neural and cognitive processes that support ambulatory motor control in humans. In particular, methodological limitations have, to date, largely prevented study of the neural processes involved in detecting and avoiding obstacles during walking. Here, using mobile EEG during real-world ambulatory obstacle avoidance, we captured the dynamic oscillatory response to changes in the environment. Time-frequency analysis of EEG data revealed clear neural markers of proactive and reactive forms of movement control (occurring before and after crossing an obstacle), visible as increases in frontal theta and centro-parietal beta power respectively. Critically, the temporal profile of changes in frontal theta allowed us to arbitrate between early selection and late correction mechanisms of proactive control: our data show that motor plans are updated as soon as an upcoming obstacle appears, rather than when the obstacle is reached, as previously thought. In addition, regardless of whether motor plans required updating, a clear beta rebound was present after obstacles were crossed, reflecting the resetting of the motor system. Overall, our use of mobile EEG during real-world walking provides novel insight into the cognitive and neural basis of dynamic motor control in humans, suggesting new routes to the monitoring and rehabilitation of motor disorders such as dyspraxia and Parkinsons disease.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience