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J Neurophysiol. 2013 Mar;109(5):1416-24. doi: 10.1152/jn.00509.2012. Epub 2012 Dec 5.

Interaction of temporal and ordinal representations in movement sequences.

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Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom.


The production of movement sequences requires an accurate control of muscle activation in time. How does the nervous system encode the precise timing of these movements? One possibility is that the timing of movements (temporal sequence) is an emergent property of the dynamic state of the nervous system and therefore intimately linked to a representation of the sequence of muscle commands (ordinal sequence). Alternatively, timing may be represented independently of the motor effectors and would be transferable to a new ordinal sequence. Some studies have found that a learned temporal sequence cannot be transferred to a new ordinal sequence, thus arguing for an integrated representation. Others have observed temporal transfer across movement sequences and have advocated an independent representation of temporal information. Using a modified serial reaction time task, we tested alternative models of the representation of temporal structure and the interaction between the output of separate ordinal and temporal sequence representations. Temporal transfer depended on whether a novel ordinal sequence was fixed within each test block. Our results confirm the presence of an independent representation of temporal structure and advocate a nonlinear multiplicative neural interaction of temporal and ordinal signals in the production of movements.

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