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Superior tactile performance and learning in professional pianists: Evidence for meta-plasticity in musicians

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Musician's brains constitute an interesting model for neuroplasticity. Imaging studies demonstrated that sensorimotor cortical representations are altered in musicians, which was assumed to arise from the development of skilled performance. However, the perceptual consequences of the cortical changes remain elusive. Here we ask whether cortical reorganization induced by professional musical skill training is paralleled by the evolution of other, unrelated perceptual abilities. We therefore studied psychophysically tactile spatial acuity as an indirect marker of cortical changes in professional pianists and non-musician control subjects using a simultaneous two-point discrimination paradigm. We show that long-lasting piano practising resulted in lower spatial discrimination thresholds in comparison to non-musicians. In musicians, individual discrimination thresholds were linearly correlated with the daily training duration, indicating a direct link between tactile acuity and the degree of piano practising. To investigate whether the superior acuity in pianists is subject to further improvement, we used a Hebbian stimulation protocol of tactile coactivation known to improve spatial tactile acuity. Three hours of coactivation further reduced their discrimination thresholds. The coactivation-induced gain in pianists was significantly larger in comparison to control subjects and correlated with the years of heavy daily practising (>3 h/day), but not with the total years including casual playing. Our results suggest that despite already high-level performance in pianists, Hebbian learning was more effective in musicians than in controls. This implies stronger capacities for plastic reorganization and points to enhanced learning abilities implicating a form of meta-plasticity in professional pianists.
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... In piano performance, sensory inputs from the auditory and somatosensory modalities provide abundant information such as loudness and timbre of notes. Indeed, previous studies have demonstrated that such multisensory experiences provide pianists with superior perceptual abilities in both modalities over untrained healthy individuals 13,28,29 . On the other hand, previous studies demonstrated interactions of sensory perception between these two modalities [30][31][32] . ...
... By contrast, the intensity discrimination in the somatosensory modality did not differ between the two groups. Contrary to this, previous studies demonstrated superior somatosensory perceptions assessed by a two-point discrimination task and a tactile frequency discrimination task in musicians compared with nonmusicians 28,37,57,58 . These contrasting results suggest that neural mechanisms underlying the somatosensory discrimination perception differ between the frequency and intensity domains 59 . ...
Article
Full-text available
Fine-tuned sensory functions typically characterize skilled individuals. Although numerous studies demonstrated enhanced unimodal sensory functions at both neural and behavioral levels in skilled individuals, little is known about their multisensory interaction function, especially multisensory integration and selective attention that involve volitional control of information derived from multiple sensory organs. In the current study, expert pianists and musically untrained individuals performed five sets of intensity discrimination tasks at the auditory and somatosensory modalities with different conditions: (1) auditory stimulus, (2) somatosensory stimulus, (3) congruent auditory and somatosensory stimuli (i.e., multisensory integration), (4) auditory and task-irrelevant somatosensory stimuli, and (5) somatosensory and task-irrelevant auditory stimuli. In the fourth and fifth conditions, participants were instructed to ignore a task-irrelevant stimulus and to pay attention to a task-relevant stimulus (i.e., selective attention), respectively. While the discrimination perception was superior in the condition (3) compared to the better one of the individual unimodal conditions only in the pianists, the task-irrelevant somatosensory stimulus worsened the auditory discrimination more in the pianists than the nonmusicians. These findings indicate unique multisensory interactions in expert pianists, which enables pianists to efficiently integrate the auditory and somatosensory information, but exacerbates top-down selective inhibition of somatosensory information during auditory processing.
... Pitch discrimination abilities are also better for musicians [2]. In addition to auditory ability, musicians have superior motor performance [3], superior perceptual acuity [4], and better somatosensory-motor interactions [5,6]. Although these performances have been examined separately in auditory and motor functions, auditory and motor experiences via musical training may also affect the performance of auditory-motor interaction. ...
Article
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Musicians tend to have better auditory and motor performance than non-musicians because of their extensive musical experience. In a previous study, we established that loudness discrimination acuity is enhanced when sound is produced by a precise force generation task. In this study, we compared the enhancement effect between experienced pianists and non-musicians. Without the force generation task, loudness discrimination acuity was better in pianists than non-musicians in the condition. However, the force generation task enhanced loudness discrimination acuity similarly in both pianists and non-musicians. The reaction time was also reduced with the force control task, but only in the non-musician group. The results suggest that the enhancement of loudness discrimination acuity with the precise force generation task is independent of musical experience and is, therefore, a fundamental function in auditory-motor interaction.
... Evidence for metaplastic effects of music training comes from studies showing that musicians have enhanced learning of sensory and motor skills (Herholz, Sibylle C. et al., 2011;Ragert et al. 2004;Rosenkranz et al. 2007), and greater increases in M1 activity during learning (Hund-Georgiadis and von Cramon 1999). Finally, given the diverse sensory, motor, and cognitive functions engaged by music training and their widespread loci within the brain (Brown et al. 2015;Zatorre et al. 2007), it is likely that other connected regions-such as prefrontal cortex-may influence experience-dependent network changes in early and late-trained musicians. ...
Article
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Adult abilities in complex cognitive domains such as music appear to depend critically on the age at which training or experience begins, and relevant experience has greater long-term effects during periods of peak maturational change. Previous work has shown that early trained musicians (ET; < age 7) out-perform later-trained musicians (LT; > age 7) on tests of musical skill, and also have larger volumes of the ventral premotor cortex (vPMC) and smaller volumes of the cerebellum. These cortico-cerebellar networks mature and function in relation to one another, suggesting that early training may promote coordinated developmental plasticity. To test this hypothesis, we examined structural covariation between cerebellar volume and cortical thickness (CT) in sensorimotor regions in ET and LT musicians and non-musicians (NMs). Results show that ETs have smaller volumes in cerebellar lobules connected to sensorimotor cortices, while both musician groups had greater cortical thickness in right pre-supplementary motor area (SMA) and right PMC compared to NMs. Importantly, early musical training had a specific effect on structural covariance between the cerebellum and cortex: NMs showed negative correlations between left lobule VI and right pre-SMA and PMC, but this relationship was reduced in ET musicians. ETs instead showed a significant negative correlation between vermal IV and right pre-SMA and dPMC. Together, these results suggest that early musical training has differential impacts on the maturation of cortico-cerebellar networks important for optimizing sensorimotor performance. This conclusion is consistent with the hypothesis that connected brain regions interact during development to reciprocally influence brain and behavioral maturation.
... However, the musical training of their sample was based on pre-existing lessons and parental report so that it was not possible to exclude environmental factors. Research evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) indicates that there are indeed changes in brain structure that result from musical training that may lead to an improved capacity to learn (Ragert et al., 2004;Stewart, 2003Stewart, , 2008. These structural changes are visible in the auditory and motor areas of the brain and the area involved in the integration of sensory motor information with the limbic system, also suggesting some relation to emotional content (Hyde et al., 2009). ...
Article
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There is a substantial body of evidence that demonstrates links between language and music and between music and improved cognitive ability, particularly with regard to verbal and working memory, in both adults and children. However, there is often a mix of type of musical training and instrument used and use of musical notation. The research reported here uses a randomised controlled trial with 32 novice children, aged seven, learning to play the piano with both hands whilst reading music notation. The intervention was conducted in a school setting, each child receiving in total four hours of instruction. Results confirm previous findings that short-term music instruction improves working memory. Results also demonstrated that children with this musical training outperformed controls on a word identification measure. Overall, the results show evidence for a causal relationship between music learning and improvements in verbal skills. The significant differences occurred after only one term of instruction and were stable 3 months post-intervention.
... Thus, we hypothesize that abilities, such as transposition and rhythm synchronization, which do not show immediate gains in early-trained children, would be more readily acquired with later training because early experience has primed the underlying neural systems to learn. This is consistent with evidence that adult musicians show better learning of new sensory and motor skills (Herholz et al. 2011;Ragert et al. 2004;Rosenkranz et al. 2007), and greater increases in M1 activity during learning (Hund-Georgiadis and Von Cramon 1999). Finally, skills that are more complex might also require further cognitive and physical maturation as well as additional training. ...
Article
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Adult ability in complex cognitive domains, including music, is commonly thought of as the product of gene-environment interactions, where genetic predispositions influence and are modulated by experience, resulting in the final phenotypic expression. Recently, however, the important contribution of maturation to gene-environment interactions has become better understood. Thus, the timing of exposure to specific experience, such as music training, has been shown to produce long-term impacts on adult behaviour and the brain. Work from our lab and others shows that musical training before the ages of 7-9 enhances performance on musical tasks and modifies brain structure and function, sometimes in unexpected ways. The goal of this paper is to present current evidence for sensitive period effects for musical training in the context of what is known about brain maturation and to present a framework that integrates genetic, environmental and maturational influences on the development of musical skill. We believe that this framework can also be applied more broadly to understanding how predispositions, brain development and experience interact.
Article
Introduction: Palpation arises controversy in the field of physiotherapy. On the one hand, this method provides a lot of valuable information. On the other, issues related to its reliability still exist. Additionally, questions about factors affecting palpation and users’ dispositions should be taken into consideration. Research objectives: The main aim of the study was to determine the impact of visual impairment on the palpatory skills of massage therapists. Material and methods: The research involved 58 participants divided into 3 groups. The first group consisted of 23, visually-impaired massage therapists, the second one was made up of 22 massage therapists and the control group consisted of 13 people unrelated to massage. The subjects took the hair test, the weight test and the measurement of Static Two-Point Discrimination within the fingertips I-III, thenar and hypothenar. Results: The analysis does not show any significant differences between the first and second group. Statistics reveal differences between the group of massage practitioners (group 1 and 2) and the control group. Visual impairment was not the most influential factor in the study. Conclusions: The level of palpation skills may be modified in both visually-impaired and healthy people. However, mechanisms that allow these modifications remain unclear. On the basis of the research, visual impairment is not considered as the only factor affecting palpation skills. Experience in palpation may well be an equally important factor.
Thesis
: De récentes études ont dévoilé l’existence d’un phénomène somatosensoriel au repos lorsque l’attention est dirigée sur le corps : la perception spontanée de sensations à la surface de la peau. Ce phénomène intrigue par plusieurs aspects. En effet, la phénoménologie de ces sensations est identique à la perception tactile. Pourtant, rien ne semble les provoquer, puisqu’elles sont ressenties sur le corps immobile et préservé de tout contact externe. Quelle est donc la source de ces signaux ? Comment ces sensations si discrètes arrivent-elles à entrer en conscience ? Et surtout, pourquoi les percevons-nous ? La confrontation à la littérature de la conscience corporelle nous a permis de détecter un manque de connaissance fondamentale : les divers modèles existants conçoivent majoritairement la conscience du corps comme le traitement de signaux physiologiques périphériques, et entretiennent un flou artistique sur les étapes amenant ces signaux à la conscience. Seule la théorie attentionnelle de la conscience corporelle postule l’existence d’un environnement interne de sensations corporelles, dont les traces reflèteraient l’activité de mécanismes somatosensoriels centraux. Ce travail de thèse a ainsi porté de front deux objectifs : mieux comprendre la nature des sensations spontanées, et décrire les mécanismes à l’œuvre dans leur perception. Par ce biais, nous avons ainsi cherché à enrichir les connaissances théoriques fondamentales sur les tenants et aboutissants de la conscience corporelle. Trois axes ont été proposés. Le premier confronte l’origine périphérique et centrale des sensations spontanées, le deuxième s’intéresse au rôle de certains mécanismes cognitifs responsable de l’accès en conscience corporelle, et le troisième approfondit la question des corrélats neuraux des sensations spontanées. Dans ces différents travaux nous avons adopté une approche unique : corréler les caractéristiques de sensations spontanées perçues à un instant T à des traits cognitifs/comportementaux ou électroencéphalographiques (EEG) extraits séparément. Outre l’approche cognitiviste, nous avons donc aussi emprunté à la physiologie et aux neurosciences, afin de diversifier nos mesures et d’apporter des éléments de réponses suffisants à nos interrogations. Les résultats obtenus nous permettent de défendre l’existence d’un phénomène somatosensoriel hallucinatoire chez l’individu lambda, mais nécessaire à la conscience corporelle. Nous montrons également que l’émergence de ce phénomène dépend de mécanismes non- spécifiques au corps : nous spécifions le rôle des processus attentionnels centraux, et apportons pour la première fois des preuves de l’investissement de la mémoire de travail visuospatiale. Nous concluons ce travail en proposant un modèle de la conscience corporelle, intégrant l’ensemble des travaux présentés dans un tout cohérent.
Chapter
Enthalten in diesem Kapitel: Tastsinn im Lebensverlauf; Ursachen von individuellen Unterschieden; Störungen der Wahrnehmung durch neurologische und psychiatrische Erkrankungen - Abstract: Die Sensibilität der einzelnen Tastsinnesdimensionen ist individuell stark verschieden ausgeprägt. Durch altersabhängige Veränderungen der Hautfeuchtigkeit, der Rezeptorzahl, der Nervenleitgeschwindigkeit sowie kognitiver Reifungs- und Abbauprozesse kann ein großer Teil dieser Unterschiede erklärt werden. Dennoch unterscheiden sich auch gesunde Personen innerhalb einer Altersgruppe mitunter sehr stark voneinander in ihren exterozeptiven, interozeptiven und propriozeptiven Fähigkeiten. Zusätzlich können Fehlfunktionen des haptischen Systems zu individuellen Veränderungen der Wahrnehmung beitragen. Störungen können dabei auf allen Verarbeitungsebenen auftreten. So können die Reizdetektion, -verarbeitung und -leitung ebenso gestört sein wie deren zentrale Integration oder die dazu erforderlichen kognitiven Ressourcen.
Chapter
Enthalten in diesem Kapitel: Trainierbarkeit und Rehabilitation; Test- und Trainingssysteme für Ausbildung und Praxis; Propädeutikum zur aktiven Tastsinnesleistung (PakT) - Die Fähigkeit, haptische, propriozeptive und taktile Reize zu verarbeiten, kann aufgrund der neuronalen Plastizität des menschlichen Zentralnervensystems trainiert werden. Plastizität im neurowissenschaftlichen Sinne beschreibt die Fähigkeit des zentralen Nervensystems, sich an veränderte Umgebungsbedingungen und Anforderungen anzupassen. Ausgehend von einem individuell unterschiedlichen Leistungsniveau kann durch geeignete Trainingsmaßnahmen die Leistungsfähigkeit des Tastsinnessystems verbessert werden, ähnlich wie bei motorischen Trainingsprozessen. Hierfür ist der haptische Schwellenwert eine relevante Messgröße.
Thesis
Full-text available
Studies suggest that some sensory abilities may be increased in humans, either i) following training or ii) following early sensory deprivation. Studies suggest that such sensory alteration can be found in people who have undergone musical training. The interaction between what is heard and felt is especially important when an individual is playing a musical instrument. Musical training is well-known as a form of multisensory training that includes interactions between auditory, visual and tactile modalities. This can lead to anatomical and structural reorganizations in the cortical regions associated with these sensory systems. Several behavioral studies have revealed improved tactile perception skills in musicians. It is still unclear whether these improvements can be found for more complex processes, such as recognition of emotions. Similar alteration of tactile abilities may also be found in another population, namely early-deaf individuals. Imaging studies have shown that vibrotactile stimuli activate auditory regions following deafness, suggesting a significant tactile reorganization of their cortex. Yet, from a behavioral point of view, tactile perception in deaf seems similar to controls. Recently, it has been suggested that more complex tactile processes may reveal behavioral differences between deaf and normal-hearing individuals. Unfortunately, similarly to musicians, these processes have not been investigated to date. The main objective of this thesis is therefore to evaluate via non-musical and musical tasks i) tactile, auditory and multisensory perception of music among musicians and ii) tactile perception of music among deaf individuals. For musicians, results of this thesis suggest enhanced auditory, tactile and audio-tactile frequency discrimination capabilities (Study 1). Also, results suggest an increase perception of emotions in music, which suggests improvements for complex auditory and tactile abilities (Study 2). These studies support the hypothesis that long-term musical training: i) leads to improved auditory and tactile perception, but especially that it extends to complex tactile processes, ii) has an impact at all hierarchical levels of sensory and cognitive processing For deaf individuals, results revealed a higher error rate during the tactile temporal order detection task (Study 3). This result suggests that spatial mapping of touch is impaired in deaf individuals. In addition, the study measuring tactile perception of emotion in music revealed that they are able to identify emotions via tactile modality solely. Also, improvements were found for the identification of happy emotion via tactile modality solely (Study 4). This increased ability to perceive happiness in a melody via the tactile modality illustrates that complex tactile skills can be improved following longstanding hearing deprivation. These two studies together suggest that complex non-musical and musical tactile abilities are altered in the deaf individual, which supports studies suggesting a cortical reorganization of auditory and tactile areas following long-term auditory deprivation.
Article
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This chapter summarizes recent findings about plastic changes in adult early sensory and motor cortices. We discuss mechanisms leading to enduring changes of synaptic efficacy and of neural response behaviour in terms of receptive fields and cortical representational maps, with special emphasis on behavioural and perceptual consequences of cortical reorganizations, after peripheral lesion or injury, differential use and training. Given the assumption that the presence of plastic-adaptive abilities are a prerequisite for coping successfully with an ever-changing environment, we focus on comparative aspects, evaluating apparent similarities and dissimilarities emerging across different modalities. Most of the material reviewed is from animal studies that allow the study of adaptations and underlying mechanisms induced under a large variety of natural and laboratory conditions, at all levels from channels and synapses, to groups of neurones and cortical maps. Owing to the recent development of non-invasive imaging technologies, it has become possible to explore the significance of cortical plasticity for humans, occurring in "every-day-life". Massive and enduring reorganizations are present for all areas and modalities discussed, corroborating the view that cortical maps and response properties are in a permanent state of use-dependent fluctuation. We discuss various mechanisms controlling synaptic plasticity, the role of input statistics and attention, the top-down modulation of plastic changes, the "negative", (maladaptive) consequences of cortical reorganization, and the coding and decoding of adapta-tional processes. Despite the convincing evidence for profound reorganizational changes in all areas, specifically for injury-related plasticity, there exist also clear modality-specific differences, an observation holding at both the cellular and the systemic level. Differences include magnitude of changes, readiness of induceability and specificity of neural parameters that are affected. While reorganization of somatosensory and auditory cortex appears to follow comparable rules and constraints, adult visual cortex plasticity shows a number of particularities, indicating that visual cortical maps might be more difficult to change. We discuss a number of possible explanations based on different levels of abstraction. Among these are differences in control mechanisms of synaptic plasticity, the limiting character of complex topological maps, and the possible limitations of the metaphor of "use", as a driving force of adult plasticity.
Article
Objective: To determine if blind people have heightened tactile spatial acuity. Background: Recently, studies using magnetic source imaging and somatosensory evoked potentials have shown that the cortical representation of the reading fingers of blind Braille readers is expanded compared to that of fingers of sighted subjects. Furthermore, the visual cortex is activated during certain tactile tasks in blind subjects but not sighted subjects. The authors hypothesized that the expanded cortical representation of fingers used in Braille reading may reflect an enhanced fidelity in the neural transmission of spatial details of a stimulus. If so, the quantitative limit of spatial acuity would be superior in blind people. Methods: The authors employed a grating orientation discrimination task in which threshold performance is accounted for by the spatial resolution limits of the neural image evoked by a stimulus. The authors quantified the psychophysical limits of spatial acuity at the middle and index fingers of 15 blind Braille readers and 15 sighted control subjects. Results: The mean grating orientation threshold was significantly (p = 0.03) lower in the blind group (1.04 mm) compared to the sighted group (1.46 mm). The self-reported dominant reading finger in blind subjects had a mean grating orientation threshold of 0.80 mm, which was significantly better than other fingers tested. Thresholds at non-Braille reading fingers in blind subjects averaged 1.12 mm, which were also superior to sighted subjects’ performances. Conclusion: Superior tactile spatial acuity in blind Braille readers may represent an adaptive, behavioral correlate of cortical plasticity.
Article
The theoretical framework presented in this article explains expert performance as the end result of individuals' prolonged efforts to improve performance while negotiating motivational and external constraints. In most domains of expertise, individuals begin in their childhood a regimen of effortful activities (deliberate practice) designed to optimize improvement. Individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to assessed amounts of deliberate practice. Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years. Analysis of expert performance provides unique evidence on the potential and limits of extreme environmental adaptation and learning.
Book
Michael S Gazzaniga Richard B. Ivry George R. Mangun Neuroscienze cognitive Seconda edizione italiana condotta sulla quarta edizione americana Gli autori Michael S. Gazzaniga ha fondato e dirige il Center for Cognitive Neuroscience presso il Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, ed è professore di Neuroscienze cognitive presso la University of California, Santa Barbara. Richard B. Ivry è professore alla University of Calilornia, Berkeley. George R, Mangun è professore emerito di Psicologia e Neurologia alla University of California, Davis, dove dirige l'istituto di ricerca Center for Mind and Brain. L'opera I primi libri di testo dedicati alle neuroscienze cognitive puntavano a determinare i principi fondanti che distinguono questa nuova area di ricerca dalla psicologia fisiologica, dalle neuroscienze, dalla psicologia cognitiva e dalla neuropsicologia. Oggi è assodato che le neuroscienze cognitive intersecano tutte queste discipline, sintetizzandole. In questa edizione, gli autori hanno mantenuto l'equilibrio tra la descrizione della teoria psicologica, focalizzata sulla mente, e le evidenze neuropsicologiche e neuroscientifiche legate al cervello. Le relazioni tra mente e cervello vengono approfondite con un'ampia varietà di tecniche, quali le neuroimmagini funzionai i e strutturali, le registrazioni elettrofisiologiche negli animali, le registrazioni dell'EEG e della MEG negli esseri umani, i metodi di stimolazione cerebrale e l'analisi delle sindromi derivanti da lesioni cerebrali. Di ogni tecnica si sottolineano punti di forza e debolezze, per dimostrare in che modo possano essere utilizzate in maniera complementare. I casi clinici servono a illustrare le osservazioni chiave per comprendere l'architettura della cognizione, più che a presentare la sintomatologia completa di un disturbo cerebrale. Gli studenti vengono avviati alla ricerca imparando a individuare quali domande porre, quali strumenti e quali progetti sperimentali scegliere per rispondere a tali domande, come valutare e interpretare i risultati dei propri esperimenti. Per completare il quadro sono presenti anche esempi di ricerca che utilizzano tecniche computazionali. Tra le altre novità della seconda edizione italiana: una tavola iniziale di Orientamento anatomico per individuare le regioni cerebrali protagoniste del capitolo; i Concetti fondamentali da ricordare alla fine di ciascun paragrafo; i capitoli sui meccanismi cellulari e sulla neuroanatomia sono stati riuniti, per offrire una presentazione sintetica dei concetti essenziali; al capitolo sul controllo cognitivo è stata aggiunta la trattazione dei processi decisionali; il capitolo sulle emozioni è stato ampliato per includere una discussione sulla sottile influenza reciproca tra le neuroscienze affettive e quelle cognitive; il nuovo capitolo conclusivo affronta il problema della coscienza e si occupa di questioni come il libero arbitrio e il modo in cui le neuroscienze cognitive possono trovare un'applicazione pratica ispirando la politica e la legislazione. Il sito web All'indirizzo online.universita.zanichelli.il/gazzaniga sono disponibili il glossario, la bibliografia e Ie fonti delle illustrazioni. 678901234(60A) www.zanichelli.it
Article
The present study was aimed at evaluating quantitatively γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) immunoreactivity in the hindlimb representation of the rat somatosensory cortex after 14 days of hindlimb unloading by tail suspension. A reduction in the number of GABA-immunoreactive cells with respect to the control animals was observed in layer Va and Vb. GABA-containing terminals were also reduced in the same layers, particularly those terminals surrounding the soma and apical dendrites of pyramidal cells in layer Vb. On the basis of previous morphological and behavioral studies of the neuromuscular system of hindlimb-suspended animals, it is suggested that the unloading due to hindlimb suspension alters afferent signaling and feedback information from intramuscular receptors to the cerebral cortex due to modifications in the reflex organization of hindlimb muscle groups. We propose that the reduction in immunoreactivity of local circuit GABAergic neurons and terminals is an expression of changes in their modulatory activity to compensate for the alterations in the afferent information.
Article
Auditory experience changes the make-up of areas in the cerebral cortex that are involved in the processing of complex sounds, including music. Evidence for this comes from various lines of research. Early blindness results in an expansion of auditory-responsive areas in the parietal cortex and a refinement in the selectivity of neurons in the auditory cortex. Occipital areas normally used only for vision are activated by auditory stimuli in the early blind. This lends credibility to the claim that blind individuals have greater musical abilities. The cross-modal changes in auditory cortical representations are based on activity-dependent modifications of synaptic circuitry. Imagery and anticipation of music also lead to activation of the auditory (and frontal) cortex. It is conceivable, therefore, that even with mental practice alone we can sharpen our musical representations in the cerebral cortex.
Article
Musicians form an ideal subject pool in which one can investigate possible cerebral adaptations to unique requirements of skilled performance as well as cerebral correlates of unique musical abilities such as absolute pitch and others. There are several reasons for this. First, the commencement of musical training usually occurs when the brain and its components may still be able to adapt. Second, musicians undergo long-term motor training and continued practice of complicated bimanual motor activity. Third, imaging studies from our group as well as other groups have shown that motor learning and the acquisition of skills can lead to changes in the representation of motor maps and possibly also to microstructural changes. Whether the unique musical abilities and structural differences that musicians' brains show are due to learning, perhaps during critical periods of brain development and maturation, or whether they reflect innate abilities and capacities that might be fostered by early exposure to music is largely unknown. We will report studies that indicate that certain regions in the brain (corpus callosum, motor cortex, cerebellum) may show some form of adaptation to extraordinary challenges and requirements of performance. These challenges may eventually lead to functional and structural cerebral changes to accommodate the requirements for musical performance. Furthermore, we will also show the neural correlates of one unique musical ability, absolute pitch. This ability may be linked to one structure in the human brain (planum temporale), which is preferentially activated in musicians who have absolute pitch during tone tasks. This structure may undergo some form of functional plasticity that is possible only during a critical period of brain development.