Neural basis of the perception and estimation of time

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2013 Jul 8;36:313-36. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-062012-170349. Epub 2013 May 29.


Understanding how sensory and motor processes are temporally integrated to control behavior in the hundredths of milliseconds-to-minutes range is a fascinating problem given that the basic electrophysiological properties of neurons operate on a millisecond timescale. Single-unit recording studies in monkeys have identified localized timing circuits, whereas neuropsychological studies of humans who have damage to the basal ganglia have indicated that core structures, such as the cortico-thalamic-basal ganglia circuit, play an important role in timing and time perception. Taken together, these data suggest that a core timing mechanism interacts with context-dependent areas. This idea of a temporal hub with a distributed network is used to investigate the abstract properties of interval tuning as well as temporal illusions and intersensory timing. We conclude by proposing that the interconnections built into this core timing mechanism are designed to provide a form of degeneracy as protection against injury, disease, or age-related decline.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*