Step-by-step: the effects of physical practice on the neural correlates of locomotion imagery revealed by fMRI
Previous studies have shown that mental imagery is a suitable tool to study the progression of the effect of practice on brain activation. Nevertheless, there is still poor knowledge of changes in brain activation patterns during the very early stages of physical practice. In this study, early and late practice stages of different kinds of locomotion (i.e., balanced and unbalanced) have been investigated using functional magnetic resonance imaging during mental imagery of locomotion and stance. During the task, cardiac activity was also recorded. The cerebral network comprising supplementary motor area, basal ganglia, bilateral thalamus, and right cerebellum showed a stronger activation during the imagery of locomotion with respect to imagery of stance. The heart beat showed a significant increase in frequency during the imagery of locomotion with respect to the imagery of stance. Moreover, early stages of practice determined an increased activation in basal ganglia and thalamus with respect to late stages. In this way, it is proposed the modulation of the brain network involved in the imagery of locomotion as a function of physical practice time.