November 24, 2020

Musical expertise shapes functional and structural brain networks independent of absolute pitch ability

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 employed and state-of-the-art multivariate methods in the largest sample to date (n = 153; 52 absolute pitch musicians, 51 relative pitch musicians, and 50 non-musicians). Our results show robust effects of musicianship in inter- and intrahemispheric connectivity in both structural and functional networks. Crucially, most of the effects were replicable in both musicians with and without absolute pitch when compared to 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 extremely subtle, requiring very large samples or task-based experiments to be detected.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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