Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The perception and production of temporal patterns, or rhythms, is important for both music and speech. However, the way in which the human brain achieves accurate timing of perceptual input and motor output is as yet little understood. Central control of both motor timing and perceptual timing across modalities has been linked to both the cerebellum and the basal ganglia (BG). The present study was designed to test the hypothesized central control of temporal processing and to examine the roles of the cerebellum, BG, and sensory association areas. In this positron emission tomography (PET) activation paradigm, subjects reproduced rhythms of increasing temporal complexity that were presented separately in the auditory and visual modalities. The results provide support for a supramodal contribution of the lateral cerebellar cortex and cerebellar vermis to the production of a timed motor response, particularly when it is complex and/or novel. The results also give partial support to the involvement of BG structures in motor timing, although this may be more directly related to implementation of the motor response than to timing per se. Finally, sensory association areas and the ventrolateral frontal cortex were found to be involved in modality-specific encoding and retrieval of the temporal stimuli. Taken together, these results point to the participation of a number of neural structures in the production of a timed motor response from an external stimulus. The role of the cerebellum in timing is conceptualized not as a clock or counter but simply as the structure that provides the necessary circuitry for the sensory system to extract temporal information and for the motor system to learn to produce a precisely timed response.