Increased Auditory Cortical Representation in Musicians
Acoustic stimuli are processed throughout the auditory projection pathway, including the neocortex, by neurons that are aggregated into 'tonotopic' maps according to their specific frequency tunings. Research on animals has shown that tonotopic representations are not statically fixed in the adult organism but can reorganize after damage to the cochlea or after training the intact subject to discriminate between auditory stimuli. Here we used functional magnetic source imaging (single dipole model) to measure cortical representations in highly skilled musicians. Dipole moments for piano tones, but not for pure tones of similar fundamental frequency (matched in loudness), were found to be enlarged by about 25% in musicians compared with control subjects who had never played an instrument. Enlargement was correlated with the age at which musicians began to practise and did not differ between musicians with absolute or relative pitch. These results, when interpreted with evidence for modified somatosensory representations of the fingering digits in skilled violinists, suggest that use-dependent functional reorganization extends across the sensory cortices to reflect the pattern of sensory input processed by the subject during development of musical skill.
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