Monday, October 26, 2009

Keeping time

Finally . . . a physiological explanation for why I have such hard time keeping time when trying to dance.  Any of you who have seen me on the dance floor at a Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) conference know what I mean!

It turns out that there are time-keeping neurons in our brains.  Specifically in the prefrontal cortex and striatum of the cerebrum. Discovered recently in the brains of monkeys by researchers at MIT, these time-keeping neurons fire consistently at certain rhythms . . . thus helping our brains to figure out when things are happening.  This helps us with rhythmic activities, of course, but also with any number of tasks and memories that rely on knowing what came first, in what order, and so on. 

Researchers speculate that damage to these neurons, or damage to the mechanisms that read the timing pattern, may contribute to disorders (such as Parkinson Disease) that involve ill-timed movements and other functions.  And perhaps may explain why Kevin has a such a hard time dancing.

In their paper, researchers failed to speculate whether this is why A&P students know exactly when to start slamming their books shut moments before a class is scheduled to end.

Want to know more?

Neural representation of time in cortico-basal ganglia circuits
Jin, DZ et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 22 Oct 2009

[Original research article]

Time-keeping Brain Neurons Discovered

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2009, October 23).
[Press release summarizing the context of the discovery.]

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