Neural control of rhythmic sequences

Fredrik Ullén, Sara L. Bengtsson, H. Henrik Ehrsson, Hans Forssberg

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10 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated whether the temporal structure of movement sequences can be represented and learned independently of their ordinal structure, and whether some brain regions are particularly important for temporal sequence performance. Using a learning transfer design, we found evidence for independent temporal representations: learning a spatiotemporal sequence facilitated learning its temporal and ordinal structure alone; learning a temporal and an ordinal structure facilitated learning of a sequence where the two were coupled. Second, learning of temporal structures was found during reproduction of sequential stimuli with random ordinal structure, suggesting independent mechanisms for temporal learning. We then used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the neural control of sequences during well-learned performance. The temporal and ordinal structures of the sequences were varied in a 2 x 2 factorial design. A dissociation was found between brain regions involved in ordinal and temporal control, the latter mainly involving the presupplementary motor area, the inferior frontal gyrus and precentral sulcus, and the superior temporal gyri. Finally, in a second fMRI experiment, well-learned temporal sequences were performed with the left or right index fingers, or using rhythmic speech. The overlap in brain activity during performance with the different effectors included a similar set of brain regions as that found in the first fMRI experiment: the supplementary motor area (SMA), the superior temporal gyrus, and the inferior frontal cortex. We thus suggest that this set of regions is important for abstract, movement-independent, temporal sequence control. This organization may be important for increased flexibility in voluntarily timed motor tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)368-376
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2005


  • fMRI
  • music
  • timing
  • supplementary motor area
  • superior temporal gyrus
  • Broca's area

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