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Neuron. 2007 Feb 1;53(3):427-38.

Timing in the absence of clocks: encoding time in neural network states.

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University of California, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, 230 Barker Hall #3190, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Decisions based on the timing of sensory events are fundamental to sensory processing. However, the mechanisms by which the brain measures time over ranges of milliseconds to seconds remain unclear. The dominant model of temporal processing proposes that an oscillator emits events that are integrated to provide a linear metric of time. We examine an alternate model in which cortical networks are inherently able to tell time as a result of time-dependent changes in network state. Using computer simulations we show that within this framework, there is no linear metric of time, and that a given interval is encoded in the context of preceding events. Human psychophysical studies were used to examine the predictions of the model. Our results provide theoretical and experimental evidence that, for short intervals, there is no linear metric of time, and that time may be encoded in the high-dimensional state of local neural networks.

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