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Henke, Josephine; Bunk, David; von Werder, Dina; Häusler, Stefan; Flanagin, Virginia L. and Thurley, Kay (2021): Distributed coding of duration in rodent prefrontal cortex during time reproduction. In: eLife, Vol. 10, e71612 [PDF, 3MB]


As we interact with the external world, we judge magnitudes from sensory information. The estimation of magnitudes has been characterized in primates, yet it is largely unexplored in nonprimate species. Here, we use time interval reproduction to study rodent behavior and its neural correlates in the context of magnitude estimation. We show that gerbils display primate-like magnitude estimation characteristics in time reproduction. Most prominently their behavioral responses show a systematic overestimation of small stimuli and an underestimation of large stimuli, often referred to as regression effect. We investigated the underlying neural mechanisms by recording from medial prefrontal cortex and show that the majority of neurons respond either during the measurement or the reproduction of a time interval. Cells that are active during both phases display distinct response patterns. We categorize the neural responses into multiple types and demonstrate that only populations with mixed responses can encode the bias of the regression effect. These results help unveil the organizing neural principles of time reproduction and perhaps magnitude estimation in general.

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