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How The Brain Keeps Time

Neuroscientists discover networks of neurons that stretch or compress their activity to control timing

Anne Trafton | MIT News Office

Timing is critical for playing a musical instrument, swinging a baseball bat, and many other activities. Neuroscientists have come up with several models of how the brain achieves its exquisite control over timing, the most prominent being that there is a centralized clock, or pacemaker, somewhere in the brain that keeps time for the entire brain.

However, a new study from MIT researchers provides evidence for an alternative timekeeping system that relies 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 Robert A. Swanson Career Development Professor of Life Sciences, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of the study.

MIT postdoc Jing Wang and former postdoc Devika Narain are the lead authors of the paper, which appears in the Dec. 4 issue of Nature Neuroscience. Graduate student Eghbal Hosseini is also an author of the paper.

Continue reading the full article: Big Think

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