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While a detailed understanding of brain activity with hand movements has developed, less is known about the functional anatomy of motor control for foot movements. Here we have used fMRI to define brain activity associated with unilateral foot extension and flexion, component movements of gait. We studied brain responses to visually cued active and passive movements and periods of either preparation (before active movement) or anticipation (before passive movement) with a pseudo-randomized block design. A mixed-effects (n = 12) contrast of the active movement condition vs. rest identified brain activation in regions including the medial wall of the primary sensorimotor cortex, consistent with expected somatotopy. Medial wall activation during passive movement vs. rest was less intense and localized to the same region. Frontal and association cortices were more active during preparation or anticipation periods than during the movements themselves. A contrast of preparation to move vs. active movement showed significant activation in the medial frontal and frontopolar gyri and the precuneus. Contrast of the anticipation of movement with the passive movement condition revealed activation in the dorsal premotor cortex and precuneus. Our study thus provides evidence for somatotopy in multiple functional regions in the motor control network. The anterior prefrontal activity is involved in the preparation for cued movement with distinct regions of the medial motor cortex (including SMA and CMA) preferentially involved in motor program planning and execution. This direct characterization of brain activation patterns associated with foot movements promises use of fMRI for the functional analysis of pathologies of gait.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





568 - 575


Adult, Ankle Joint, Brain, Brain Mapping, Contingent Negative Variation, Dominance, Cerebral, Electromyography, Evoked Potentials, Motor, Female, Foot, Gait, Humans, Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Motor Cortex, Muscle, Skeletal, Nerve Net, Prefrontal Cortex, Somatosensory Cortex, Walking