Predicting the timing of upcoming events is critical for successful interaction in a dynamic world, and is recognized as a key computation for attentional orienting. Temporal predictions can be formed when recent events define a rhythmic structure, as well as in aperiodic streams or even in isolation, when a specified interval is known from previous exposure. However, whether predictions in these two contexts are mediated by a common mechanism, or by distinct, context-dependent mechanisms, is highly controversial. Moreover, although the basal ganglia and cerebellum have been linked to temporal processing, the role of these subcortical structures in temporal orienting of attention is unclear. To address these issues, we tested individuals with cerebellar degeneration or Parkinson's disease, with the latter serving as a model of basal ganglia dysfunction, on temporal prediction tasks in the subsecond range. The participants performed a visual detection task in which the onset of the target was predictable, based on either a rhythmic stream of stimuli, or a single interval, specified by two events that occurred within an aperiodic stream. Patients with cerebellar degeneration showed no benefit from single-interval cuing but preserved benefit from rhythm cuing, whereas patients with Parkinson's disease showed no benefit from rhythm cuing but preserved benefit from single-interval cuing. This double dissociation provides causal evidence for functionally nonoverlapping mechanisms of rhythm- and interval-based temporal prediction for attentional orienting, and establishes the separable contributions of the cerebellum and basal ganglia to these functions, suggesting a mechanistic specialization across timing domains.
Keywords: attention; basal ganglia; cerebellum; temporal predictions.