How the brain keeps time?
Science & Tech / /
Good timing is critical for many activities. Neuroscientists are using several models to explain how the brain achieves its control over timing. According to the most prominent one, there is a centralized clock, somewhere in the brain that keeps time for the entire brain.
Following the new study launched by MIT researchers--which provided evidence for an alternative system relying on the neurons responsible for producing a specific action, depending on the time interval required--these neurons compress or stretch out the steps they take to generate the behavior at a specific time.
“What we found is that it’s a very active process. The brain is not passively waiting for a clock to reach a particular point,” says Mehrdad Jazayeri, the senior author of the study.
As it was explained on MIT’s official site, the study was focused on a brain loop that connects three regions: the dorsomedial frontal cortex, the caudate, and the thalamus. This distinctive neural pattern was found in the dorsomedial frontal cortex, which is involved in many cognitive processes, and the caudate, involved in motor control, inhibition, and some types of learning. However, in the thalamus, which relays motor and sensory signals, they found a different pattern: instead of altering the speed of their trajectory, many of the neurons simply increased or decreased their firing rate, depending on the interval required.
Jazayeri found this finding consistent with the possibility that the thalamus is instructing the cortex on how to adjust its activity in order to generate a certain interval. He now hopes to extend the study by exploring how our expectations influence our ability to produce different intervals, and how the brain generates the neural patterns during varying time intervals.