Two identical stimuli, such as a pair of electrical shocks to the skin, are readily perceived as two separate events in time provided the interval between them is sufficiently long. However, as they are presented progressively closer together, there comes a point when the two separate stimuli are perceived as a single stimulus.
Damage to posterior parietal cortex, peri-supplementary motor area (peri-SMA), and basal ganglia can disturb this form of temporal discrimination. Our aim was to establish, in healthy subjects, the brain areas that are involved in this process. During functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning, paired electrical pulses, separated by variable inter-stimulus intervals (5-110 msec), were delivered to different sites on one forearm (8-64 mm from the midline). Subjects were required to simply detect the stimulus (control task) or to identify a stimulus property. For temporal discrimination (TD), subjects reported whether they felt one or two stimuli. For spatial discrimination, they reported whether the stimuli were located on the right or left side of the forearm.
Subjects reported their choice by pressing a button with the opposite hand. Our results showed that discrimination, as opposed to simply detection, activated several brain areas. Most were common to both discrimination tasks. These included regions of prefrontal cortex, right postcentral gyrus and inferior parietal lobule, basal ganglia, and cerebellum. However, activation of pre-SMA and anterior cingulate was found to be specific to the TD task.
This suggests that these two frontal regions may play a role in the temporal processing of somatosensory events.
CITATION J Neurosci. 2004 Mar 10;24(10):2585-91
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