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Neuroscience. 2012 Sep 6;219:166-74. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.05.032. Epub 2012 May 22.

Anticipatory postural adjustments during step initiation: elicitation by auditory stimulation of differing intensities.

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University of Lille Nord de France, and Lille University Hospital, Lille, France.


Step initiation is associated with anticipatory postural adjustments (APAs) that vary according to the speed of the first step. When step initiation is elicited by a "go" signal (i.e. in a reaction time task), the presentation of an unpredictable, intense, acoustic startling stimulus (engaging a subcortical mechanism) simultaneously with or just before the imperative "go" signal is able to trigger early-phase APAs. The aim of the present study was to better understand the mechanisms underlying APAs during step initiation. We hypothesized that the early release of APAs by low-intensity, non-startling stimuli delivered long before an imperative "go" signal indicates the involvement of several different mechanisms in triggering APAs (and not just acoustic reflexes triggering brainstem structures). Fifteen healthy subjects were asked to respond to an imperative visual "go" signal by initiating a step with their right leg. A brief, binaural 40, 80 or 115 dB auditory stimulus was given 1.4 s before the "go" signal. Participants were instructed not to respond to the auditory stimulus. The centre of pressure trajectory and the electromyographic activity of the orbicularis oculi, sternocleidomastoid and tibialis anterior muscles were recorded. All three intensities of the auditory stimulus were able to evoke low-amplitude, short APAs without subsequent step execution. The louder the stimulus, the more frequent the elicitation. Depending on the intensity of the stimulus, APAs prior to step initiation can be triggered without the evocation of a startle response or an acoustic blink. Greater reaction times for these APAs were observed for non-startling stimuli. This observation suggested the involvement of pathways that did not involve the brainstem as a "prime mover".

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