This study is the first to compare in the same subjects the specific spatial distribution and the functional and anatomical connectivity of the neuronal resources that activate and integrate syntactic representations during music and language processing. Combining functional magnetic resonance imaging with functional connectivity and diffusion tensor imaging-based probabilistic tractography, we examined the brain network involved in the recognition and integration of words and chords that were not hierarchically related to the preceding syntax; that is, those deviating from the universal principles of grammar and tonal relatedness. This kind of syntactic processing in both domains was found to rely on a shared network in the left hemisphere centered on the inferior part of the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), including pars opercularis and pars triangularis, and on dorsal and ventral long association tracts connecting this brain area with temporo-parietal regions. Language processing utilized some adjacent left hemispheric IFG and middle temporal regions more than music processing, and music processing also involved right hemisphere regions not activated in language processing. Our data indicate that a dual-stream system with dorsal and ventral long association tracts centered on a functionally and structurally highly differentiated left IFG is pivotal for domain-general syntactic competence over a broad range of elements including words and chords.
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