Abstract

As a functional homolog for left-hemispheric syntax processing in language, neuroimaging studies evidenced involvement of right prefrontal regions in musical syntax processing, of which underlying white matter connectivity remains unexplored so far. In the current experiment, we investigated the underlying pathway architecture in subjects with 3 levels of musical expertise. Employing diffusion tensor imaging tractography, departing from seeds from our previous functional magnetic resonance imaging study on music syntax processing in the same participants, we identified a pathway in the right ventral stream that connects the middle temporal lobe with the inferior frontal cortex via the extreme capsule, and corresponds to the left hemisphere ventral stream, classically attributed to syntax processing in language comprehension. Additional morphometric consistency analyses allowed dissociating tract core from more dispersed fiber portions. Musical expertise related to higher tract consistency of the right ventral stream pathway. Specifically, tract consistency in this pathway predicted the sensitivity for musical syntax violations. We conclude that enduring musical practice sculpts ventral stream architecture. Our results suggest that training-related pathway plasticity facilitates the right hemisphere ventral stream information transfer, supporting an improved sound-to-meaning mapping in music.

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