Creative music therapy to promote brain function and brain structure in preterm infants: A randomized controlled pilot study

Neuroimage Clin. 2020;25:102171. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2020.102171. Epub 2020 Jan 13.


Cognitive and neurobehavioral problems are among the most severe adverse outcomes in very preterm infants. Such neurodevelopmental impairments may be mitigated through nonpharmacological interventions such as creative music therapy (CMT), an interactive, resource- and needs-oriented approach that provides individual social contact and musical stimulation. The aim was to test the feasibility of a study investigating the role of CMT and to measure the short- and medium-term effects of CMT on structural and functional brain connectivity with MRI. In this randomized, controlled clinical pilot feasibility trial, 82 infants were randomized to either CMT or standard care. A specially trained music therapist provided CMT via infant-directed humming and singing in lullaby style. To test the short-term effects of CMT on brain structure and function, diffusion tensor imaging data and resting-state functional imaging data were acquired. Clinical feasibility was achieved despite moderate parental refusal mainly in the control group after randomization. 40 infants remained as final cohort for the MRI analysis. Structural brain connectivity appears to be moderately affected by CMT, structural connectomic analysis revealed increased integration in the posterior cingulate cortex only. Lagged resting-state MRI analysis showed lower thalamocortical processing delay, stronger functional networks, and higher functional integration in predominantly left prefrontal, supplementary motor, and inferior temporal brain regions in infants treated with CMT. This trial provides unique evidence that CMT has beneficial effects on functional brain activity and connectivity in networks underlying higher-order cognitive, socio-emotional, and motor functions in preterm infants. Our results indicate the potential of CMT to improve long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes in children born very preterm.

Keywords: Functional connectivity; Music therapy; Neurodevelopment; Preterm infants; Resting state fMRI; Thalamocortical processing.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex* / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex* / physiology
  • Connectome* / methods
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging* / methods
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant, Extremely Premature / physiology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature* / physiology
  • Music Therapy*
  • Nerve Net* / anatomy & histology
  • Nerve Net* / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net* / physiology
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thalamus* / anatomy & histology
  • Thalamus* / diagnostic imaging
  • Thalamus* / physiology