"Flexible timing in the rat medial frontal cortex and cerebellum"
Many people with neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease present with symptoms of cognitive dysfunction. Cognitive symptoms are closely tied to quality of life. However, the underlying brain pathologies that accompany these symptoms are poorly understood, leading to limited treatment options. This dissertation aimed to better characterize the brain areas and neural activity patterns that contribute to one type of cognitive processing, flexible interval timing. Understanding the areas, transmitter systems, and cellular processes involved in flexible timing will hopefully inform better treatments for cognitive dysfunction.
In my doctoral work, I modified an existing timing task used in both preclinical and clinical research, in hopes of gaining more insight into the brain areas needed for flexible timing. When I tested the necessity of the rat cerebellum and frontal cortex for this task, I found evidence that the frontal cortex was needed for successful performance. Based on these results, I narrowed my focus to the frontal cortex for follow-up experiments where I examined how frontal cortex neurons changed their activity patterns to meet changing task demands. I observed evidence for a phenomenon called temporal scaling during my task. My data serve as proof of principle that a modified peak interval timing task can be used to examine the relationship between flexible timing and temporal scaling.