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Neuroimage. 2019 Nov 22:116391. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116391. [Epub ahead of print]

Music enhances structural maturation of emotional processing neural pathways in very preterm infants.

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Division of Development and Growth, Department of Woman, Child and Adolescent, University Hospitals of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.
Department of Psychology of Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.
Center of BioMedical Imaging (CIBM), Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland.
Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre, School of Medicine, University of Nottingham, UK; NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, University of Nottingham, UK; Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging (WIN) - Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB), University of Oxford, UK.
Department of Radiology and Medical Informatics, Center of BioMedical Imaging (CIBM), University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.
Division of Development and Growth, Department of Woman, Child and Adolescent, University Hospitals of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland. Electronic address:


Prematurity disrupts brain maturation by exposing the developing brain to different noxious stimuli present in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and depriving it from meaningful sensory inputs during a critical period of brain development, leading to later neurodevelopmental impairments. Musicotherapy in the NICU environment has been proposed to promote sensory stimulation, relevant for activity-dependent brain plasticity, but its impact on brain structural maturation is unknown. Neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that music listening triggers neural substrates implied in socio-emotional processing and, thus, it might influence networks formed early in development and known to be affected by prematurity. Using multi-modal MRI, we aimed to evaluate the impact of a specially composed music intervention during NICU stay on preterm infant's brain structure maturation. 30 preterm newborns (out of which 15 were exposed to music during NICU stay and 15 without music intervention) and 15 full-term newborns underwent an MRI examination at term-equivalent age, comprising diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), used to evaluate white matter maturation using both region-of-interest and seed-based tractography approaches, as well as a T2-weighted image, used to perform amygdala volumetric analysis. Overall, WM microstructural maturity measured through DTI metrics was reduced in preterm infants receiving the standard-of-care in comparison to full-term newborns, whereas preterm infants exposed to the music intervention demonstrated significantly improved white matter maturation in acoustic radiations, external capsule/claustrum/extreme capsule and uncinate fasciculus, as well as larger amygdala volumes, in comparison to preterm infants with standard-of-care. These results suggest a structural maturational effect of the proposed music intervention on premature infants' auditory and emotional processing neural pathways during a key period of brain development.


Diffusion tensor imaging; Emotional processing; Human brain development; Music intervention; Preterm birth

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