CogniFit's Science blog: Scientists Find How Brains Keep Track Of Time

Scientists Find How Brains Keep Track Of Time

Keeping track of time and remembering things that happened in the past is one of the brain’s most important functions. A recent study has identified the neurons in primate brains that code time.

Neuroscientists have theorized that the brain “time stamps” events as they happen, allowing us to keep track of where we are and when past events occurred.

Scientists were not able to find evidence that such time stamps existed. But a study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has now found that missing evidence. According to Ann Graybiel, a professor at MIT, brains time stamp everything, and then recalling events is easy. A person goes back and looks through the time stamps until you find the one that fits the event you are looking for.

Precise timing is necessary for almost all our everyday functions. Driving a car, playing the piano or keeping track of past events would not be possible without such a mechanism.

The researchers trained two macaque monkeys to perform a simple eye-movement task. After receiving the “go” signal, the monkeys could then perform the task at their own speed. Using a new technique that allows researchers to record electrical signals from hundreds of neurons simultaneously, the researchers found neurons that consistently fired at specific times, i.e. 100 milliseconds, 110 milliseconds, 150 milliseconds, etc. In other words, the cells were keeping time.

The neurons are located in the prefrontal cortex, which play an important role in learning, movement and thought control.

This discovery could lead to new treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, where the ability to control the timing of movements is impaired.