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Front Syst Neurosci. 2013 Dec 3;7:102. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2013.00102. eCollection 2013.

Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch.

Author information

  • 1Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, CNRS Paris, France ; Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité Paris, France.
  • 2Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Mental Health, University of British Columbia Vancouver, BC, Canada.
  • 3Department of Linguistics, University of Maryland College Park, MD, USA.
  • 4School of Medicine, University of Queensland Brisbane, QLD, Australia.
  • 5Department of Molecular Cellular Biology, Center for Brain Science, Harvard University Cambridge, MA, USA.
  • 6Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia Vancouver, BC, Canada.
  • 7Centre for Affective Disorders, Institute of Psychiatry King's College London, UK.


Absolute pitch, the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a sound without a reference point, has a critical period, i.e., it can only be acquired early in life. However, research has shown that histone-deacetylase inhibitors (HDAC inhibitors) enable adult mice to establish perceptual preferences that are otherwise impossible to acquire after youth. In humans, we found that adult men who took valproate (VPA) (a HDAC inhibitor) learned to identify pitch significantly better than those taking placebo-evidence that VPA facilitated critical-period learning in the adult human brain. Importantly, this result was not due to a general change in cognitive function, but rather a specific effect on a sensory task associated with a critical-period.


absolute pitch; critical period reopening; histone-deacetylase inhibitors; human adults; learning; valproate

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