The supplementary motor area in motor and sensory timing: evidence from slow brain potential changes

Exp Brain Res. 1999 Apr;125(3):271-80. doi: 10.1007/s002210050683.


The present study investigated the processing of durations on the order of seconds with slow cortical potential changes. The question is whether trial-to-trial fluctuations in temporal productions or judgments correspond to variations in the amplitude of surface Laplacians computed over particular scalp regions. Topographical analyses were done using the source derivation method. Subjects performed three successive tasks: (1) time production, in which they produced a 2.5-s interval separated by two brief trigger presses; (2) time discrimination, in which they detected small differences in intervals delimited by two brief clicks in comparison with a memorized standard interval: and (3) intensity discrimination (control task, devoid of time judgments), in which they detected small differences between the intensity of clicks, in comparison with standard clicks initially memorized. In order to focus on subjective differences, in the two discrimination tasks most comparison stimuli were identical to the standard, without the subjects being aware of it. At FCz, reflecting activity from the mesial frontocentral cortex that mainly includes the supplementary motor area (SMA), larger negativities were found during the longer target intervals, whether these were produced (task 1) or judged so (task 2). Those performance-dependent trends were restricted to the target intervals of the temporal tasks; they appeared neither during the 2 s preceding the target, nor during the control task. The data therefore suggest that the SMA subserves important functions in timing both sensory and motor tasks. We propose that the SMA either provides the "pulse accumulation" process commonly postulated in models of time processing or that it receives output from this process through striatal efferent pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / cytology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Substantia Nigra / cytology
  • Substantia Nigra / physiology
  • Time Perception / physiology*