Mysterious tendrils inside the brain may control our perception of time: ScienceAlert

Mysterious tendrils inside the brain may control our perception of time: ScienceAlert

Tiny antennae-like organelles once thought to be holdovers from our distant past appear to be play a key role in keeping track of time, according to a recent mouse study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), in the US.

Known as ciliamicrotubule projections can be found in the more complex branches of the tree of life, including many of our cells.

Where they often play a role in locomotion, whether pushing cells around or moving materials near their surface, most in the human body—described as primary cilia—are not motile.

Initial investigations more than a century ago considered these types of structures to be red. Today, many primary cilia are recognized as part of a signal hub system which keeps the body adapting and responding appropriately.

While the different roles of primary cilia are in receiving and responding to sensory information are establishedlittle is known about how these organelles fit into the higher-order cognitive functions that take place in the brain.

Part of the job of an area of ​​the brain known as striatum is to act as a central clock, coordinating motor movements, learning, planning and decision-making. It is also important for managing working memory and maintaining attention.

For their study, the researchers used a gene manipulation technique to remove the cilia of the striatum in mice, which had a dramatic effect.

While the mice were still able to retain long-term memories and habitual or previously learned motor skills, various negative effects were observed after removing the cilia.

The rodents were shown to be unable to learn new motor tasks and exhibited repetitive motor behavior as well as noticeable delays in decision-making. Their ability to quickly recall information about location and orientation, as well as their ability to filter out irrelevant sensory information from the environment, were negatively affected.

Various tests and exercises were conducted with the mice to reach these conclusions, including putting the animals through mazes and testing their ability to recognize objects and locations.

“Successful performance of working memory, attention, decision-making, and executive function requires accurate and precise estimation of time, typically within milliseconds to minutes,” says UCI neuroscientist Amal Alachkar.

“When this capacity is impaired, it means a loss of the ability to rapidly adjust behavior in response to changes in external stimuli and a failure to maintain appropriate goal-directed motor responses.”

It is clear that all the effects of cilia removal have a common feature: the loss of the ability to rapidly change behavior in response to changes in the environment in an appropriate time frame.

It is not yet fully known how the results of this study apply to humans, but it is likely that the cilia of the human brain work in a similar way as they do in mice. Researchers are already working on follow-up studies to further analyze the relationship between cilia and time perception.

Not only does this discovery improve our understanding of how we perceive the world, it can help us fix it when our view of time goes awry.

Disturbance of time perception and misjudgment of time is characteristic of a number of mental and neurological disorders, including schizophrenia, Parkinson’s illness, Tourette’s syndrome, autism spectrum disorderand Huntington’s disease.

“Our results may open new avenues for effective intervention through cilia-targeted therapies for healing,” says Alachkar.

“Our ongoing work is focused on understanding the mechanisms by which cilia regulate time perception and developing targeted therapies to improve behavioral deficits.”

The research was published in Molecular Neurobiology.

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