A biophysical counting mechanism for keeping time

Klavdia Zemlianova, Amitabha Bose, John Rinzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The ability to estimate and produce appropriately timed responses is central to many behaviors including speaking, dancing, and playing a musical instrument. A classical framework for estimating or producing a time interval is the pacemaker-accumulator model in which pulses of a pacemaker are counted and compared to a stored representation. However, the neural mechanisms for how these pulses are counted remain an open question. The presence of noise and stochasticity further complicates the picture. We present a biophysical model of how to keep count of a pacemaker in the presence of various forms of stochasticity using a system of bistable Wilson-Cowan units asymmetrically connected in a one-dimensional array; all units receive the same input pulses from a central clock but only one unit is active at any point in time. With each pulse from the clock, the position of the activated unit changes thereby encoding the total number of pulses emitted by the clock. This neural architecture maps the counting problem into the spatial domain, which in turn translates count to a time estimate. We further extend the model to a hierarchical structure to be able to robustly achieve higher counts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-218
Number of pages14
JournalBiological Cybernetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • General Computer Science


  • Bistability
  • Counting
  • Interval selectivity
  • Mathematical model
  • Neural models
  • Temporal processing
  • Time perception
  • Timing


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