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Neurological Disorders Channel
Reported November 1, 2012

Tick-Tock Brain Clock

(Ivanhoe Broadcast)—Look around. How many environmental cues help you identify the time or the rate at which it passes? Whether you wear a watch or work next to a window, your body is constantly gathering information that helps regulate essential physiological and psychological rhythms. Researchers at the University of Minnesota's Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR) recently published findings that further identify the processes that take place in our brains relevant to time. 

Devoid of all external cues and rewards, the study authors evaluated how well monkeys could rely on their internal clocks to accurately gauge the passage of time.  Once the desired period passed, the monkeys were trained to communicate with the researchers through eye movement. The monkeys completed the task with unprecedented precision and consistency.

The researchers found that the lateral intraparietal area (LIP) in the brain was especially active, though it was not prominent in previous time studies that included external cues and reward expectations. The LIP activity may be the key to understanding how the brain processes time.

“In contrast to previous studies that observed a build-up of activity associated with the passage of time, we found that LIP activity decreased at a constant rate between timed movements," lead researcher Geoffrey Ghose, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Minnesota said in a previously prepared statement. "Importantly, the animals' timing varied after these neurons were more, or less, active. It's as if the activity of these neurons was serving as an internal hourglass."

The study also concluded from comparison with previous studies that there is not a specific area of the brain solely responsible for maintaining an internal clock. It is possible that different parts of our neural circuitry can generate accurate time indicators though further research must be done to understand the effects of deliberate learning, repetition and signal manipulation.

Source: PLOS Biology
 

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