Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Cortex. 2021 Jan 23;137:74-92. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2020.12.021

Preference for locomotion-compatible curved paths and forward direction of self-motion in somatomotor and visual areas

During locomotion, leg movements define the direction of walking (forward or backward) and the path one is taking (straight or curved). These aspects of locomotion produce characteristic visual motion patterns during movement. Here, we tested whether cortical regions responding to either egomotion-compatible visual motion, or leg movements, or both, are sensitive to these locomotion-relevant aspects of visual motion. We compared a curved path (typically the visual feedback of a changing direction of movement in the environment) to a linear path for simulated forward and backward motion in an event-related fMRI experiment. We used an individual surface-based approach and two functional localizers to define (1) six egomotion-related areas (V6+, V3A, intraparietal motion area [IPSmot], cingulate sulcus visual area [CSv], posterior cingulate area [pCi], posterior insular cortex [PIC]) using the flow field stimulus and (2) three leg-related cortical regions (human PEc [hPEc], human PE [hPE] and primary somatosensory cortex [S-I]) using a somatomotor task. Then, we extracted the response from all these regions with respect to the main event-related fMRI experiment, consisting of passive viewing of an optic flow stimulus, simulating a forward or backward direction of self-motion in either linear or curved path. Results showed that some regions have a significant preference for the curved path motion (hPEc, hPE, S-I, IPSmot) or a preference for the forward motion (V3A), while other regions have both a significant preference for the curved path motion and for the forward compared to backward motion (V6+, CSv, pCi). We did not find any significant effects of the present stimuli in PIC. Since controlling locomotion mainly means controlling changes of walking direction in the environment during forward self-motion, such a differential functional profile among these cortical regions suggests that they play a differentiated role in the visual guidance of locomotion.

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