The brain of opera singers: experience-dependent changes in functional activation

Cereb Cortex. 2010 May;20(5):1144-52. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhp177. Epub 2009 Aug 19.

Abstract

Several studies have shown that motor-skill training over extended time periods results in reorganization of neural networks and changes in brain morphology. Yet, little is known about training-induced adaptive changes in the vocal system, which is largely subserved by intrinsic reflex mechanisms. We investigated highly accomplished opera singers, conservatory level vocal students, and laymen during overt singing of an Italian aria in a neuroimaging experiment. We provide the first evidence that the training of vocal skills is accompanied by increased functional activation of bilateral primary somatosensory cortex representing articulators and larynx. Opera singers showed additional activation in right primary sensorimotor cortex. Further training-related activation comprised the inferior parietal lobe and bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. At the subcortical level, expert singers showed increased activation in the basal ganglia, the thalamus, and the cerebellum. A regression analysis of functional activation with accumulated singing practice confirmed that vocal skills training correlates with increased activity of a cortical network for enhanced kinesthetic motor control and sensorimotor guidance together with increased involvement of implicit motor memory areas at the subcortical and cerebellar level. Our findings may have ramifications for both voice rehabilitation and deliberate practice of other implicit motor skills that require interoception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology
  • Music*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Professional Competence*
  • Voice*
  • Young Adult

Substances

  • Oxygen