Introduction to the neurobiology of interval timing

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014;829:1-13. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-1782-2_1.


Time is a fundamental variable that organisms must quantify in order to survive. In humans, for example, the gradual development of the sense of duration and rhythm is an essential skill in many facets of social behavior such as speaking, dancing to-, listening to- or playing music, performing a wide variety of sports, and driving a car (Merchant H, Harrington DL, Meck WH. Annu Rev Neurosci. 36:313-36, 2013). During the last 10 years there has been a rapid growth of research on the neural underpinnings of timing in the subsecond and suprasecond scales, using a variety of methodological approaches in the human being, as well as in varied animal and theoretical models. In this introductory chapter we attempt to give a conceptual framework that defines time processing as a family of different phenomena. The brain circuits and neural underpinnings of temporal quantification seem to largely depend on its time scale and the sensorimotor nature of specific behaviors. Therefore, we describe the main time scales and their associated behaviors and show how the perception and execution of timing events in the subsecond and second scales may depend on similar or different neural mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Neurobiology*
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / physiology*
  • Time Perception / physiology*