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Neuroimage. 2010 Oct 15;53(1):26-36. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.06.042. Epub 2010 Jun 23.

Cortical structure predicts success in performing musical transformation judgments.

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Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 2B4.


Recognizing melodies by their interval structure, or "relative pitch," is a fundamental aspect of musical perception. By using relative pitch, we are able to recognize tunes regardless of the key in which they are played. We sought to determine the cortical areas important for relative pitch processing using two morphometric techniques. Cortical differences have been reported in musicians within right auditory cortex (AC), a region considered important for pitch-based processing, and we have previously reported a functional correlation between relative pitch processing in the anterior intraparietal sulcus (IPS). We addressed the hypothesis that regional variation of cortical structure within AC and IPS is related to relative pitch ability using two anatomical techniques, cortical thickness (CT) analysis and voxel-based morphometry (VBM) of magnetic resonance imaging data. Persons with variable amounts of formal musical training were tested on a melody transposition task, as well as two musical control tasks and a speech control task. We found that gray matter concentration and cortical thickness in right Heschl's sulcus and bilateral IPS both predicted relative pitch task performance and correlated to a lesser extent with performance on the two musical control tasks. After factoring out variance explained by musical training, only relative pitch performance was predicted by cortical structure in these regions. These results directly demonstrate the functional relevance of previously reported anatomical differences in the auditory cortex of musicians. The findings in the IPS provide further support for the existence of a multimodal network for systematic transformation of stimulus information in this region.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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