Brain Bases of Working Memory for Time Intervals in Rhythmic Sequences

Front Neurosci. 2016 Jun 1;10:239. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2016.00239. eCollection 2016.


Perception of auditory time intervals is critical for accurate comprehension of natural sounds like speech and music. However, the neural substrates and mechanisms underlying the representation of time intervals in working memory are poorly understood. In this study, we investigate the brain bases of working memory for time intervals in rhythmic sequences using functional magnetic resonance imaging. We used a novel behavioral paradigm to investigate time-interval representation in working memory as a function of the temporal jitter and memory load of the sequences containing those time intervals. Human participants were presented with a sequence of intervals and required to reproduce the duration of a particular probed interval. We found that perceptual timing areas including the cerebellum and the striatum were more or less active as a function of increasing and decreasing jitter of the intervals held in working memory respectively whilst the activity of the inferior parietal cortex is modulated as a function of memory load. Additionally, we also analyzed structural correlations between gray and white matter density and behavior and found significant correlations in the cerebellum and the striatum, mirroring the functional results. Our data demonstrate neural substrates of working memory for time intervals and suggest that the cerebellum and the striatum represent core areas for representing temporal information in working memory.

Keywords: fMRI; interval timing; rhythm; time perception; working memory.