Musical training intensity yields opposite effects on grey matter density in cognitive versus sensorimotor networks
Using optimized voxel-based morphometry, we performed grey matter density analyses on 59 age-, sex- and intelligence-matched young adults with three distinct, progressive levels of musical training intensity or expertise. Structural brain adaptations in musicians have been repeatedly demonstrated in areas involved in auditory perception and motor skills. However, musical activities are not confined to auditory perception and motor performance, but are entangled with higher-order cognitive processes. In consequence, neuronal systems involved in such higher-order processing may also be shaped by experience-driven plasticity. We modelled expertise as a three-level regressor to study possible linear relationships of expertise with grey matter density. The key finding of this study resides in a functional dissimilarity between areas exhibiting increase versus decrease of grey matter as a function of musical expertise. Grey matter density increased with expertise in areas known for their involvement in higher-order cognitive processing: right fusiform gyrus (visual pattern recognition), right mid orbital gyrus (tonal sensitivity), left inferior frontal gyrus (syntactic processing, executive function, working memory), left intraparietal sulcus (visuo-motor coordination) and bilateral posterior cerebellar Crus II (executive function, working memory) and in auditory processing: left Heschl's gyrus. Conversely, grey matter density decreased with expertise in bilateral perirolandic and striatal areas that are related to sensorimotor function, possibly reflecting high automation of motor skills. Moreover, a multiple regression analysis evidenced that grey matter density in the right mid orbital area and the inferior frontal gyrus predicted accuracy in detecting fine-grained incongruities in tonal music.