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Scientists Zero in on Brain's 'Stopwatch'

Timing mechanisms in brain cells may hold clues for Parkinson's treatment, researchers say

FRIDAY, Oct. 23(HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've discovered collections of brain cells that may play a role in how the body maintains the precision timing involved in things like playing the piano and driving a car.

The research team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology found the cells in the prefrontal cortex and striatum parts of the brain, which are crucial to how humans learn, move and think.

The researchers, who report their findings in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found the groups of cells by studying macaque monkeys that had been trained to move their eyes in a specific way. Brain cells in the prefrontal cortex and striatum went into action at specific times after the monkeys were told to perform the trick.

In essence, the neurons acted like a stopwatch, providing "time stamps" in the brain, the study authors explained in a news release from MIT.

The findings could help scientists gain greater insight into how the brain cells influence the way humans learn and behave. Potentially, the findings might allow researchers to develop prosthetic devices to help the brain recover function lost to conditions like Parkinson's disease, which impairs mental timing mechanisms.

More information

Learn more about the brain from the Nemours Foundation.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, news release, Oct. 19, 2009

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