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Time-keeping brain neurons discovered
Date:10/22/2009

neurons act like clocks that mark time."

The team of researchers trained two macaque monkeys to perform a simple eye-movement task. After receiving a "go" signal, the monkeys were free to perform the task at their own speed. The researchers found that neurons in the prefrontal cortex and the striatum consistently fired at specific times after the "go" signal -- at 100 milliseconds, 110 milliseconds, 150 milliseconds, and other intervals. Like a stopwatch, these neurons provided a fine-scale coverage over a period of several seconds. The combined activity of these neurons provided "time stamps" that could specify any given time point with a remarkable precision of less than 50 milliseconds, which is more than sufficient to account for most behaviors.

"Another key finding of our work is that the brains of the monkeys constructed neural activities to encode time even though timing was not required for the experimental task," Jin said. "We suggest that time encoding is the essential function of the brain's neural networks."

Jin said this kind of time-keeping activity long had been suggested in theories of how animals learn to recognize a stimulus that leads to delayed rewards, but his team's work is the first experimental demonstration of this Time-keeping function using recordings of neuron activity.

The discovery opens the door to many investigations, including how the brain produces this time code, and how the time code is used to control behavior and learning. In the longer term, the ability to read the brain's natural time code may facilitate the development of neural prosthetic devices for conditions such as Parkinson's disease, in which neurons in the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia are disrupted and the ability to control the timing of movements is impaired.


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Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy
science@psu.edu
814-863-4682
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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