Voxel-based morphometry reveals increased gray matter density in Broca's area in male symphony orchestra musicians

Neuroimage. 2002 Nov;17(3):1613-22. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2002.1288.


Broca's area is a major neuroanatomical substrate for spoken language and various musically relevant abilities, including visuospatial and audiospatial localization. Sight reading is a musician-specific visuospatial analysis task, and spatial ability is known to be amenable to training effects. Musicians have been reported to perform significantly better than nonmusicians on spatial ability tests, which is supported by our findings with the Benton judgement of line orientation (JOL) test (P < 0.001). We hypothesised that use-dependent adaptation would lead to increased gray matter density in Broca's area in musicians. Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and stereological analyses were applied to high-resolution 3D MR images in male orchestral musicians (n = 26) and sex, handedness, and IQ-matched nonmusicians (n = 26). The wide age range (26 to 66 years) of volunteers permitted a secondary analysis of age-related effects. VBM with small volume correction (SVC) revealed a significant (P = 0.002) region of increased gray matter in Broca's area in the left inferior frontal gyrus in musicians. We observed significant age-related volume reductions in cerebral hemispheres, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex subfields bilaterally and gray matter density in the left inferior frontal gyrus in controls but not musicians; a positive correlation between JOL test score and age in musicians but not controls; a positive correlation between years of playing and the volume of gray matter in a significant region identified by VBM in under-50-year-old musicians. We suggest that orchestral musical performance promotes use-dependent retention, and possibly expansion, of gray matter involving Broca's area and that this provides further support for shared neural substrates underpinning expressive output in music and language.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aptitude / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Language
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Music*
  • Reading*
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*