Is an absolute level of cortical beta suppression required for proper movement? Magnetoencephalographic evidence from healthy aging

Elizabeth Heinrichs-Graham, Tony W. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Previous research has connected a specific pattern of beta oscillatory activity to proper motor execution, but no study to date has directly examined how resting beta levels affect motor-related beta oscillatory activity in the motor cortex. Understanding this relationship is imperative to determining the basic mechanisms of motor control, as well as the impact of pathological beta oscillations on movement execution. In the current study, we used magnetoencephalography (MEG) and a complex movement paradigm to quantify resting beta activity and movement-related beta oscillations in the context of healthy aging. We chose healthy aging as a model because preliminary evidence suggests that beta activity is elevated in older adults, and thus by examining older and younger adults we were able to naturally vary resting beta levels. To this end, healthy younger and older participants were recorded during motor performance and at rest. Using beamforming, we imaged the peri-movement beta event-related desynchronization (ERD) and extracted virtual sensors from the peak voxels, which enabled absolute and relative beta power to be assessed. Interestingly, absolute beta power during the pre-movement baseline was much stronger in older relative to younger adults, and older adults also exhibited proportionally large beta desynchronization (ERD) responses during motor planning and execution compared to younger adults. Crucially, we found a significant relationship between spontaneous (resting) beta power and beta ERD magnitude in both primary motor cortices, above and beyond the effects of age. A similar link was found between beta ERD magnitude and movement duration. These findings suggest a direct linkage between beta reduction during movement and spontaneous activity in the motor cortex, such that as spontaneous beta power increases, a greater reduction in beta activity is required to execute movement. We propose that, on an individual level, the primary motor cortices have an absolute threshold of beta power that must be reached in order to move, and that an inability to suppress beta power to this threshold results in an increase in movement duration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-521
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • MEG
  • Motor control
  • Motor network
  • Oscillations
  • Precentral gyrus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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