Individual differences in brainstem and basal ganglia structure predict postural control and balance loss in young and older adults

Matthieu P. Boisgontier*, Boris Cheval, Sima Chalavi, Peter van Ruitenbeek, Inge Leunissen, Oron Levin, Alice Nieuwboer, Stephan P Swinnen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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It remains unclear which specific brain regions are the most critical for human postural control and balance, and whether they mediate the effect of age. Here, associations between postural performance and corticosubcortical brain regions were examined in young and older adults using multiple structural imaging and linear mixed models. Results showed that of the regions involved in posture, the brainstem was the strongest predictor of postural control and balance: lower brainstem volume predicted larger center of pressure deviation and higher odds of balance loss. Analyses of white and gray matter in the brainstem showed that the pedunculopontine nucleus area appeared to be critical for postural control in both young and older adults. In addition, the brainstem mediated the effect of age on postural control, underscoring the brainstem's fundamental role in aging. Conversely, lower basal ganglia volume predicted better postural performance, suggesting an association between greater neural resources in the basal ganglia and greater movement vigor, resulting in exaggerated postural adjustments. Finally, results showed that practice, shorter height and heavier weight (i.e., higher body mass index), higher total physical activity, and larger ankle active (but not passive) range of motion were predictive of more stable posture, irrespective of age.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-59
Number of pages13
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


  • Aging
  • Basal ganglia
  • Brainstem
  • Falls
  • Pedunculopontine nucleus
  • Posture

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