Brain activity correlates differentially with increasing temporal complexity of rhythms during initialisation, synchronisation, and continuation phases of paced finger tapping

Neuropsychologia. 2004;42(10):1301-12. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2004.03.001.


Activity in parts of the human motor system has been shown to correlate with the complexity of performed motor sequences in terms of the number of limbs moved, number of movements, and number of trajectories. Here, we searched for activity correlating with temporal complexity, in terms of the number of different intervals produced in the sequence, using an overlearned tapping task. Our task was divided into three phases: movement selection and initiation (initiate), synchronisation of finger tapping with an external auditory cue (synchronise), and continued tapping in absence of the auditory pacer (continue). Comparisons between synchronisation and continuation showed a pattern in keeping with prior neuroimaging studies of paced finger tapping. Thus, activation of bilateral SMA and basal ganglia was greater in continuation tapping than in synchronisation tapping. Parametric analysis revealed activity correlating with temporal complexity during initiate in bilateral supplementary and pre-supplementary motor cortex (SMA and preSMA), rostral dorsal premotor cortex (PMC), basal ganglia, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), among other areas. During synchronise, correlated activity was observed in bilateral SMA, more caudal dorsal and ventral PMC, right DLPFC and right primary motor cortex. No correlated activity was observed during continue at P<0.01 (corrected, cluster level), though left angular gyrus was active at P<0.05. We suggest that the preSMA and rostral dorsal PMC activities during initiate may be associated with selection of timing parameters, while activation in centromedial prefrontal cortex during both initiate and synchronise may be associated with temporal error monitoring or correction. The absence of activity significantly correlated with temporal complexity during continue suggests that, once an overlearned timed movement sequence has been selected and initiated, there is no further adjustment of the timing control processes related to its continued production in absence of external cues.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Periodicity
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Reference Values
  • Time Perception / physiology*