Introduction: Adults with Parkinson's disease (PD) experience gait disturbances that can sometimes be improved with rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS); however, the underlying physiological mechanism for this improvement is not well understood. We investigated brain activation patterns in adults with PD and healthy controls (HC) using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while participants imagined gait with or without RAS. Methods: Twenty-seven adults with PD who could walk independently and walked more smoothly with rhythmic auditory cueing than without it, and 25 age-matched HC participated in this study. Participants imagined gait in the presence of RAS or white noise (WN) during fMRI. Results: In the PD group, gait imagery with RAS activated cortical motor areas, including supplementary motor areas and the cerebellum, while gait imagery with WN additionally recruited the left parietal operculum. In HC, the induced activation was limited to cortical motor areas and the cerebellum for both the RAS and WN conditions. Within- and between-group analyses demonstrated that RAS reduced the activity of the left parietal operculum in the PD group but not in the HC group (condition-by-group interaction by repeated measures analysis of variance, p < 0.05). Conclusion: During gait imagery in adults with PD, the left parietal operculum was less activated by RAS than by WN, while no change was observed in HC, suggesting that rhythmic auditory stimulation may support the sensory-motor networks involved in gait, thus alleviating the overload of the parietal operculum and compensating for its dysfunction in these patients.
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