Poster B107, Sunday, March 26, 8:00 – 10:00 am, Pacific Concourse
Probing plasticity of auditory cortex in adulthood: Structural brain changes following pitch discrimination training
Elisabeth Wenger1, André Werner1, Simone Kühn1,2, Ulman Lindenberger1; 1Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany, 2University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany
Musicians are a particularly suitable model for investigating structural plasticity of sensory processing in humans. In this study, we targeted the domain of auditory processing and investigated experience-induced changes in pitch processing. We recruited young adults between 18 and 33 years who had signed up for a course that prepares candidate students for their conservatory entrance examination. An important component of this training course is relative pitch discrimination, that is, the ability to identify tones and intervals in relation to a reference tone. Participants of the experimental group were training for different university curricula: instrumentalist (various instruments), Tonmeister, conductor, or composer (n=21). As a control group, we recruited 15 younger adults who had also received musical training in their youth and also actively performed music in their daily lives but who did not participate in a preparatory course. All participants were assessed behaviorally and with functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 4 to 5 times over 10-12 months. Using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to automatically segment gray matter volume, we detected a gray matter decrease in left superior temporal gyrus in aspiring professionals compared to amateurs over time. Our results are consistent with the recently proposed expansion–renormalization model of plastic changes (Lövdén et al., 2013, NBR), and suggest that the auditory cortex of aspiring professionals who were perfecting their pitch discrimination skills was undergoing renormalization. Further analyses will focus on characterizing the shape and size of Heschl’s gyrus to asses individual variation and group differences therein.
Topic Area: NEUROANATOMY