When we intensively train a timing skill, such as learning to play the piano, we do not only produce brain changes associated with task-specific learning, but also improve the performance on other temporal behaviors that depend on these tuned neural resources. Since the neural basis of time learning and generalization are still unknown, we measured the changes in neural activity associated with the transfer of learning from perceptual to motor timing. We found that intense training in an interval discrimination task increased the acuity of time perception in a group of subjects that also showed learning transfer, expressed as a reduction in tapping variability during an internally-driven periodic motor task. However, we also found subjects with no learning and generalization effects, and a third group with no signs of learning but with practice-based decreases in temporal variability in the motor task. Notably, these heterogeneous populations of subjects shared a common increase of activity in the medial premotor areas and the putamen in the post-with respect to the pre-training session of the tapping task. These findings support the idea that the core timing network is constantly refining its ability to time behaviors in different contexts and that practice is critical for keeping the neural clock attuned and properly functioning.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience