Cerebellar Roles in Self-Timing for Sub- and Supra-Second Intervals

J Neurosci. 2017 Mar 29;37(13):3511-3522. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2221-16.2017. Epub 2017 Feb 27.


Previous studies suggest that the cerebellum and basal ganglia are involved in sub-second and supra-second timing, respectively. To test this hypothesis at the cellular level, we examined the activity of single neurons in the cerebellar dentate nucleus in monkeys performing the oculomotor version of the self-timing task. Animals were trained to report the passage of time of 400, 600, 1200, or 2400 ms following a visual cue by making self-initiated memory-guided saccades. We found a sizeable preparatory neuronal activity before self-timed saccades across delay intervals, while the time course of activity correlated with the trial-by-trial variation of saccade latency in different ways depending on the length of the delay intervals. For the shorter delay intervals, the ramping up of neuronal firing rate started just after the visual cue and the rate of rise of neuronal activity correlated with saccade timing. In contrast, for the longest delay (2400 ms), the preparatory activity started late during the delay period, and its onset time correlated with self-timed saccade latency. Because electrical microstimulation applied to the recording sites during saccade preparation advanced self-timed but not reactive saccades, regardless of their directions, the signals in the cerebellum may have a causal role in self-timing. We suggest that the cerebellum may regulate timing in both sub-second and supra-second ranges, although its relative contribution might be greater for sub-second than for supra-second time intervals.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT How we decide the timing of self-initiated movement is a fundamental question. According to the prevailing hypothesis, the cerebellum plays a role in monitoring sub-second timing, whereas the basal ganglia are important for supra-second timing. To verify this, we explored neuronal signals in the monkey cerebellum while animals reported the passage of time in the range 400-2400 ms by making eye movements. Contrary to our expectations, we found that neurons in the cerebellar dentate nucleus exhibited a similar preparatory activity for both sub-second and supra-second intervals, and that electrical simulation advanced self-timed saccades in both conditions. We suggest that the cerebellum plays a causal role in the fine adjustment of self-timing in a larger time range than previously thought.

Keywords: cognitive function; extracellular recording; internal time; oculomotor; primate; time reproduction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology*
  • Macaca
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Saccades / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Perception / physiology*