Action observation (AO) and motor imagery (MI) are motor simulations which induce cortical activity related to execution of observed and imagined movements. Neuroimaging studies have mainly investigated where the cortical activities during AO and MI of movements are activated and if they match those activated during execution of the movements. However, it remains unclear how cortical activity is modulated; in particular, whether activity depends on observed or imagined phases of movements. We have previously examined the neural mechanisms underlying AO and MI of walking, focusing on the combined effect of AO with MI (AO+MI) and phase dependent modulation of corticospinal and spinal reflex excitability. Here, as a continuation of our previous studies, we investigated cortical activity depending on gait phases during AO and AO+MI of walking by using electroencephalography (EEG); 64-channel EEG signals were recorded in which participants observed walking with or without imagining it, respectively. EEG source and spectral analyses showed that, in the sensorimotor cortex during AO+MI and AO, the alpha and beta power were decreased, and power spectral modulations depended on walking phases. The phase dependent modulations during AO+MI, but not during AO, were like those which occur during actual walking as reported by previous walking studies. These results suggest that combinatory effects of AO+MI could induce parts of the phase dependent activation of the sensorimotor cortex during walking even without any movements. These findings would extend understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying walking and cognitive motor processes and provide clinically beneficial information towards rehabilitation for patients with neurological gait dysfunctions.
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