Early Musical Training and White-Matter Plasticity in the Corpus Callosum: Evidence for a Sensitive Period

Christopher J. Steele1,2, Jennifer A. Bailey1, Robert J. Zatorre3, and Virginia B. Penhune1 +Show Affiliations
1Department of Psychology, Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, Canada H4B 1R6,
2Department of Neurology, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, 04103 Leipzig, Germany, and
3Montreal Neurological Hospital and Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 2B4
Author contributions: C.J.S., J.A.B., R.J.Z., and V.B.P. designed research; C.J.S. and J.A.B. performed research; C.J.S. analyzed data; C.J.S., J.A.B., R.J.Z., and V.B.P. wrote the paper. The Journal of Neuroscience, 16 January 2013, 33(3): 1282-1290; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3578-12.2013

Abstract :

Training during a sensitive period in development may have greater effects on brain structure and behavior than training later in life. Musicians are an excellent model for investigating sensitive periods because training starts early and can be quantified. Previous studies suggested that early training might be related to greater amounts of white matter in the corpus callosum, but did not control for length of training or identify behavioral correlates of structural change. The current study compared white-matter organization using diffusion tensor imaging in early- and late-trained musicians matched for years of training and experience. We found that early-trained musicians had greater connectivity in the posterior midbody/isthmus of the corpus callosum and that fractional anisotropy in this region was related to age of onset of training and sensorimotor synchronization performance. We propose that training before the age of 7 years results in changes in white-matter connectivity that may serve as a scaffold upon which ongoing experience can build.

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