Neural Substrates of Internally-Based and Externally-Cued Timing: An Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) Meta-Analysis of fMRI Studies

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019 Jan;96:197-209. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.10.003. Epub 2018 Oct 11.


A dynamic interplay exists between Internally-Based (IBT) and Externally-Cued (ECT) time processing. While IBT processes support the self-generation of context-independent temporal representations, ECT mechanisms allow constructing temporal representations primarily derived from the structure of the sensory environment. We performed an activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis on 177 fMRI experiments, from 79 articles, to identify brain areas involved in timing; two individual ALEs tested the hypothesis of a neural segregation between IBT and ECT. The general ALE highlighted a network involving supplementary motor area (SMA), intraparietal sulcus, inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), insula (INS) and basal ganglia. We found evidence of a partial dissociation between IBT and ECT. IBT relies on a subset of areas also involved in ECT, however ECT tasks activate SMA, right IFG, left precentral gyrus and INS in a significantly stronger way. Present results suggest that ECT involves the detection of environmental temporal regularities and their integration with the output of the IBT processing, to generate a representation of time which reflects the temporal metric of the environment.

Keywords: ALE; Duration; Meta-analysis; Rhythm; Time perception; Timing; fMRI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Periodicity
  • Time Perception / physiology*