Basal ganglia, dopamine and temporal processing: performance on three timing tasks on and off medication in Parkinson's disease

Brain Cogn. 2008 Oct;68(1):30-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2008.02.121. Epub 2008 Apr 18.


A pervasive hypothesis in the timing literature is that temporal processing in the milliseconds and seconds range engages the basal ganglia and is modulated by dopamine. This hypothesis was investigated by testing 12 patients with Parkinson's disease (PD), both 'on' and 'off' dopaminergic medication, and 20 healthy controls on three timing tasks. In a seconds range (30-120 s) time production task, patients tested 'on' medication showed a significantly different accuracy profile compared to controls and when tested 'off' medication. However, no group or on vs off medication differences in accuracy were found on a time reproduction task and a warned reaction time task requiring temporal processing within the 250-2000 ms range. Variability was measured using the coefficient of variation, with the performance of the patient group on the time reproduction task violating the scalar property, suggesting atypical temporal processing mechanisms. The data suggest that the integrity of the basal ganglia is necessary for 'typical' time production in the seconds range as well as for time reproduction at shorter intervals. Exploratory factor analysis suggested that the time production task uses neural mechanisms distinct from those used in the other two timing tasks. The dissociation of the effects of dopaminergic medication and nature of task on performance in PD raises interesting questions about the pharmacological mediation and task-specificity of deficits in temporal processing.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Antiparkinson Agents / therapeutic use
  • Attention / drug effects
  • Attention / physiology
  • Basal Ganglia / physiopathology*
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Discrimination, Psychological / drug effects
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Memory / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Parkinson Disease / drug therapy
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Perception / drug effects
  • Time Perception / physiology*


  • Antiparkinson Agents
  • Dopamine