Friday, November 7, 2014

Musical Training affecting Cortical Thickness Development


In this paper, Dr. James J. Hudziak et al assessed the extent to which playing a musical instrument is associated with cortical thickness development among healthy youths.
The paper argues that all children possess symptoms of inattention, aggression, anxiety and sadness, and emotional dysregulation, and that these symptoms are influenced by genes and environments which are both negative and positive. With this being said, they published numerous behavioural genetic articles demonstrating that children with attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not categorically different from children who do not meet criteria for ADHD; rather, they are quantitatively more severe in that they possess more symptoms than children who do not meet ADHD criteria. These reports say that subclinical anxious/depressed symptoms in healthy youths are related to cortical thickness maturation within aspects of the medial prefrontal network (a network implicated in the mediation of clinically significant mood and anxiety symptomatology). Many years ago, Dr. Hudziak aimed to determine how health-promoting activities might be associated with better outcomes in children and reported on the behavioural genetic architecture of the health benefits of exercise, music, and reading. Taking the approach to structural neuroimaging, he aimed to look at a wellness activity reported by others to be health promoting and having an effect on brain structure and function, and to study that activity in the same dataset on which he successfully published the behavioural findings. He focused on the wellness activity of playing a musical instrument.

In musical training, Dr. Hudziak discusses how structural MRI studies display strong evidence for an environmental training effect rather than a genetic predisposition. One of his studies outlined in this paper showed increased aptitude after 15 months of training for the experimental group versus the control group on finger motor tasks and melody/rhythmic tasks, but not on nonmusical tasks. He explains how brain deformation changes were observed in motor areas, the corpus callosum, and the right primary auditory region, all areas important for music performance and auditory processing. In addition, his results showed that unexpected areas increased in volume compared to those of the controls: various frontal areas, the left posterior pericingulate, and the left middle occipital region. He says there is evidence that musicians have brain architecture that is altered based on amount of practice and age at which music lessons are initiated.

Participants were part of the National Institutes of Health MRI Study of Normal Brain Development. This study followed a longitudinal design such that participants underwent MRI scanning and behavioural testing on up to 3 separate visits, happening at 2-year intervals. MRI, IQ, and music training data were available for 232 youths, ranging from 6 to 18 years of age. Cortical thickness was regressed against the number of years that each youth had played a musical instrument. Thickness was then regressed against an “Age Years of Playing” interaction term. Age, gender, total brain volume, and scanner were controlled for in analyses. The aim was to determine whether music training had specific effects on cortical organization in this sample and, if so, whether these brain regions correlate with any of the prior findings that we reported on structural correlates of behaviour such as aggression, inattention, anxiety, sadness, or dysregulation. The hope for the study was to provide strategies for using health-promoting activities in the prevention or treatment of common quantitative behavioural problems.

The results showed that males and females did not differ with regard to years playing a musical instrument. The analysis revealed that music training was associated with an increased rate of age-related thinning. Dr. Hudziak states that the same pattern was observed in other cortical regions associated with the “Age Years Playing” interaction term.
In his follow-up analyses, he investigated the relationship between years of playing a musical instrument and cortical surface area, as well as the degree to which surface area development was moderated by years of playing a musical instrument. In both analyses, he concludes that music training is associated with cortical thickness development but not cortical surface area development.


When I first read this paper, I did not know what the value was to "cortical thickness". In our Music and Brain class, we have discussed how the cerebral cortex has been called the highest achievement of biological evolution and the neural substrate of human mental abilities. Could music training really affect cortical thickness? As Dr. Hudziak says, measuring cortical thickness is an important task for both normal and abnormal neuroanatomy. The cortical mantle varies in thickness depending on the region of the cortex, with considerable variation between individual brains as well as between hemispheres of the same brain. I have always believed that when children begin playing a musical instrument early at age, they develop certain memory and high attention span aspects faster. As Dr. Hudziak tries to explain, this affects the brain's cortical thickness.

Studies like this prove that free music programs need to stay within the public/private school systems. As I discussed, the cerebral cortex serves as an important matter within the brain and its thickness can contribute to better mental health. Children need to continue learning music in order to help brain development, such as the cerebral cortex.

To further benefit the research, I think Dr. Hudziak should follow through by examining the extent to which music training affects cortical development among youths with clinically significant attention problems because his study showed that participants with quantitatively higher scores on attention problems exhibit delayed cortical thickness maturation in portions of cortical regions. This might show that music training’s influence on cortical maturation, particularly in prefrontal regions, may serve to mitigate aspects of ADHD symptomatology.

Source: Hudziak, James. "Cortical Thickness Maturation and Duration of Music Training: Health-Promoting Activities Shape Brain Development." JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF CHILD & ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY 53.11 (2014): 1153-161. Print.

1 comment:

Carina Freitas said...

This article showed that playing a musical instrument is associated with more rapid cortical thickness maturation among healthy youth. Relevant future research will compare this association with a clinical population of adolescents with attention and behavioral problems.
During my past experience as a child psychiatrist, I had some children with ADHD who undertook formal music training and improved their attention and behavior. Their parents were very satisfied with the results. Naturally, I cannot claim it to be a scientific approach; however, there is some empirical evidence.
Studies have shown that there are contradictory findings regarding the brain maturation in ADHD. While some authors argue that there is a developmental delay in cortical maturation, other findings support the hypothesis of abnormal anatomical development. If the delay in cortical maturation is taken into consideration, then it would be wise to expect improvement in brain maturation in ADHD patients by musical training.
It is notable that music classes are different from musical training. For instance in Portugal, public schools offer music lessons until grade 6, but formal music training of a specific instrument is just available in private music schools or at the local conservatory of music. Unfortunately the socioeconomic status defines who attends and benefits from musical training. However, it poses a question whether other elements in high status families (besides music training) can play a role in the maturation of the youth brain.