The Association between Prefrontal Cortex Activity and Turning Behavior in People with and without Freezing of Gait


Turning elicits Freezing of Gait (FoG) episodes in people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and is thought to require higher cortical control compared to straight ahead gait. Functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) has been used to examine prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity while walking, but the relationship between PFC activity and turn performance remains unclear. The aim of this pilot study was to examine PFC activity during turning in PD and healthy controls, and to investigate the association between PFC activity and turning. Thirty-two subjects, 15 freezers (PD + FoG) and 17 non-freezers (PD − FoG), and 8 controls were asked to perform a 2-min turning-in-place test under single-task (ST) and dual-task (DT) conditions. Each participant wore an fNIRS system to measure changes in oxyhemoglobin, as measure of PFC activity, and inertial sensors to quantify turning. Our results show a significant group (p = .050), task (p = .039), and interaction (p = .047) for the PFC activity during turning. Specifically, PD + FoG show higher PFC during turning compared to the other groups; PFC activity during DT is overall different compared to ST with an opposite trend in PD + FoG compared to controls and PD − FoG. In addition, higher PFC is associated with worse FoG in PD + FoG (r = 0.57, p = .048) and with lower number of turns in PD − FoG (r = − 0.70, p = .002). The increased PFC activity in PD and the association between higher PFC activity and poorer turning performance may be a sign of poor movement automaticity in PD. Although further investigations are required, these pilot findings may guide development of personalized treatments to improve motor automaticity in PD.