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Musical Expertise Shapes Functional and Structural Brain Networks Independent of Absolute Pitch Ability


Leipold, Simon; Klein, Carina; Jäncke, Lutz (2021). Musical Expertise Shapes Functional and Structural Brain Networks Independent of Absolute Pitch Ability. Journal of Neuroscience, 41(11):2496-2511.

Abstract

Professional musicians are a popular model for investigating experience-dependent plasticity in human large-scale brain networks. A minority of musicians possess absolute pitch, the ability to name a tone without reference. The study of absolute pitch musicians provides insights into how a very specific talent is reflected in brain networks. Previous studies of the effects of musicianship and absolute pitch on large-scale brain networks have yielded highly heterogeneous findings regarding the localization and direction of the effects. This heterogeneity was likely influenced by small samples and vastly different methodological approaches. Here, we conducted a comprehensive multimodal assessment of effects of musicianship and absolute pitch on intrinsic functional and structural connectivity using a variety of commonly used and state-of-the-art multivariate methods in the largest sample to date (n = 153 female and male human participants; 52 absolute pitch musicians, 51 non-absolute pitch musicians, and 50 non-musicians). Our results show robust effects of musicianship in interhemispheric and intrahemispheric connectivity in both structural and functional networks. Crucially, most of the effects were replicable in both musicians with and without absolute pitch compared with non-musicians. However, we did not find evidence for an effect of absolute pitch on intrinsic functional or structural connectivity in our data: The two musician groups showed strikingly similar networks across all analyses. Our results suggest that long-term musical training is associated with robust changes in large-scale brain networks. The effects of absolute pitch on neural networks might be subtle, requiring very large samples or task-based experiments to be detected.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT A question that has fascinated neuroscientists, psychologists, and musicologists for a long time is how musicianship and absolute pitch, the rare talent to name a tone without reference, are reflected in large-scale networks of the human brain. Much is still unknown as previous studies have reported widely inconsistent results based on small samples. Here, we investigate the largest sample of musicians and non-musicians to date (n = 153) using a multitude of established and novel analysis methods. Results provide evidence for robust effects of musicianship on functional and structural networks that were replicable in two separate groups of musicians and independent of absolute pitch ability.

Abstract

Professional musicians are a popular model for investigating experience-dependent plasticity in human large-scale brain networks. A minority of musicians possess absolute pitch, the ability to name a tone without reference. The study of absolute pitch musicians provides insights into how a very specific talent is reflected in brain networks. Previous studies of the effects of musicianship and absolute pitch on large-scale brain networks have yielded highly heterogeneous findings regarding the localization and direction of the effects. This heterogeneity was likely influenced by small samples and vastly different methodological approaches. Here, we conducted a comprehensive multimodal assessment of effects of musicianship and absolute pitch on intrinsic functional and structural connectivity using a variety of commonly used and state-of-the-art multivariate methods in the largest sample to date (n = 153 female and male human participants; 52 absolute pitch musicians, 51 non-absolute pitch musicians, and 50 non-musicians). Our results show robust effects of musicianship in interhemispheric and intrahemispheric connectivity in both structural and functional networks. Crucially, most of the effects were replicable in both musicians with and without absolute pitch compared with non-musicians. However, we did not find evidence for an effect of absolute pitch on intrinsic functional or structural connectivity in our data: The two musician groups showed strikingly similar networks across all analyses. Our results suggest that long-term musical training is associated with robust changes in large-scale brain networks. The effects of absolute pitch on neural networks might be subtle, requiring very large samples or task-based experiments to be detected.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT A question that has fascinated neuroscientists, psychologists, and musicologists for a long time is how musicianship and absolute pitch, the rare talent to name a tone without reference, are reflected in large-scale networks of the human brain. Much is still unknown as previous studies have reported widely inconsistent results based on small samples. Here, we investigate the largest sample of musicians and non-musicians to date (n = 153) using a multitude of established and novel analysis methods. Results provide evidence for robust effects of musicianship on functional and structural networks that were replicable in two separate groups of musicians and independent of absolute pitch ability.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
08 Research Priority Programs > Dynamics of Healthy Aging
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:17 March 2021
Deposited On:23 Mar 2021 12:13
Last Modified:23 Mar 2021 12:14
Publisher:Society for Neuroscience
ISSN:0270-6474
OA Status:Closed
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1985-20.2020
PubMed ID:33495199

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