When listening to music, pitch deviations are more salient and elicit stronger prediction error responses when the melodic context is predictable and when the listener is a musician. Yet, the neuronal dynamics and changes in synaptic efficacy underlying such effects remain unclear. Here, we employed dynamic causal modeling (DCM) to investigate whether the magnetic mismatch negativity response (MMNm), and its modulation by context predictability and musical expertise, are associated with enhanced neural gain of auditory areas, as a plausible mechanism for encoding precision-weighted prediction errors. Using Bayesian model comparison, we asked whether models with intrinsic connections within primary auditory cortex (A1) and superior temporal gyrus (STG) (typically related to gain control) or extrinsic connections between A1 and STG (typically related to propagation of prediction and error signals) better explained magnetoencephalography (MEG) responses. We found that, compared to regular sounds, out-of-tune pitch deviations were associated with lower intrinsic (inhibitory) connectivity in A1 and STG, and lower backward (inhibitory) connectivity from STG to A1, consistent with disinhibition and enhanced neural gain in these auditory areas. More predictable melodies were associated with disinhibition in right A1, while musicianship was associated with disinhibition in left A1 and reduced connectivity from STG to left A1. These results indicate that musicianship and melodic predictability, as well as pitch deviations themselves, enhance neural gain in auditory cortex during deviance detection. Our findings are consistent with predictive processing theories suggesting that precise and informative error signals are selected by the brain for subsequent hierarchical processing.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience