Abstract: Initially, infants are capable of discriminating phonetic contrasts across the world’s languages. Starting between seven and ten months of age, they gradually lose this ability through a process of perceptual narrowing. Although traditionally investigated with isolated speech sounds, such narrowing occurs in a variety of perceptual domains (e.g., faces, visual speech). Thus far, tracking the developmental trajectory of this tuning process has been focused primarily on auditory speech alone, and generally using isolated sounds. But infants learn from speech produced by people talking to them, meaning they learn from a complex audiovisual signal. Here, we use near-infrared spectroscopy to measure blood concentration changes in the bilateral temporal cortices of infants in three different age groups: 3-to-6 months, 7-to-10 months, and 11-to-14-months. Critically, all three groups of infants were tested with continuous audiovisual speech in both their native and another, unfamiliar language. We found that at each age range, infants showed different patterns of cortical activity in response to the native and non-native stimuli. Infants in the youngest group showed bilateral cortical activity that was greater overall in response to non-native relative to native speech; the oldest group showed left lateralized activity in response to native relative to non-native speech. These results highlight perceptual tuning as a dynamic process that happens across modalities and at different levels of stimulus complexity.
Abstract: Sleep has many important biological functions, but how sleep is regulated remains poorly understood. In humans, social isolation and other stressors early in life can disrupt adult sleep. In fruit flies housed at different population densities during early adulthood, social enrichment was shown to increase subsequent sleep, but it is unknown if population density during early development can also influence adult sleep. To answer this question, we maintained Drosophila larvae at a range of population densities throughout larval development, kept them isolated during early adulthood, and then tested their sleep patterns. Our findings reveal that flies that had been isolated as larvae had more fragmented sleep than those that had been raised at higher population densities. This effect was more prominent in females than in males. Larval population density did not affect sleep in female flies that were mutant for amnesiac, which has been shown to be required for normal memory consolidation, adult sleep regulation, and brain development. In contrast, larval population density effects on sleep persisted in female flies lacking the olfactory receptor or83b, suggesting that olfactory signals are not required for the effects of larval population density on adult sleep. These findings show that population density during early development can alter sleep behavior in adulthood, suggesting that genetic and/or structural changes are induced by this developmental manipulation that persist through metamorphosis.
Abstract: Rhythm as the time structure of music is composed of distinct temporal components such as pattern, meter, and tempo. Each feature requires different computational processes: meter involves representing repeating cycles of strong and weak beats; pattern involves representing intervals at each local time point which vary in length across segments and are linked hierarchically; and tempo requires representing frequency rates of underlying pulse structures. We explored whether distinct rhythmic elements engage different neural mechanisms by recording brain activity of adult musicians and non-musicians with positron emission tomography (PET) as they made covert same-different discriminations of (a) pairs of rhythmic, monotonic tone sequences representing changes in pattern, tempo, and meter, and (b) pairs of isochronous melodies. Common to pattern, meter, and tempo tasks were focal activities in right, or bilateral, areas of frontal, cingulate, parietal, prefrontal, temporal, and cerebellar cortices. Meter processing alone activated areas in right prefrontal and inferior frontal cortex associated with more cognitive and abstract representations. Pattern processing alone recruited right cortical areas involved in different kinds of auditory processing. Tempo processing alone engaged mechanisms subserving somatosensory and premotor information (e.g., posterior insula, postcentral gyrus). Melody produced activity different from the rhythm conditions (e.g., right anterior insula and various cerebellar areas). These exploratory findings suggest the outlines of some distinct neural components underlying the components of rhythmic structure.
Abstract: In recent years, musicians have been increasingly recruited to investigate grey and white matter neuroplasticity induced by skill acquisition. The development of Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging (DT-MRI) has allowed more detailed investigation of white matter connections within the brain, addressing questions about the effect of musical training on connectivity between specific brain regions. Here, current DT-MRI analysis techniques are discussed and the available evidence from DT-MRI studies into differences in white matter architecture between musicians and non-musicians is reviewed. Collectively, the existing literature tends to support the hypothesis that musical training can induce changes in cross-hemispheric connections, with significant differences frequently reported in various regions of the corpus callosum of musicians compared with non-musicians. However, differences found in intra-hemispheric fibres have not always been replicated, while findings regarding the internal capsule and corticospinal tracts appear to be contradictory. There is also recent evidence to suggest that variances in white matter structure in non-musicians may correlate with their ability to learn musical skills, offering an alternative explanation for the structural differences observed between musicians and non-musicians. Considering the inconsistencies in the current literature, possible reasons for conflicting results are offered, along with suggestions for future research in this area.
Abstract: Patients with conversion disorder generally suffer from a severe neurological deficit which cannot be attributed to a structural neurological damage. In two patients with acute conversion paraplegia, investigation with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed that the insular cortex, a limbic-related cortex involved in body-representation and subjective emotional experience, was activated not only during attempt to move the paralytic body-parts, but also during mental imagery of their movements. In addition, mental rotation of affected body-parts was found to be disturbed, as compared to unaffected body parts or external objects. fMRI during mental rotation of the paralytic body-part showed an activation of another limbic related region, the anterior cingulate cortex. These data suggest that conversion paraplegia is associated with pathological activity in limbic structures involved in body representation and a deficit in mental processing of the affected body-parts.
Abstract: Williams syndrome (WS), a genetic neurodevelopmental disorder, has been taken as evidence that music and language constitute separate modules. This research focused on the linguistic component of prosody and aimed to assess whether relationships exist between the pitch processing mechanisms for music and prosody in WS. Children with WS and typically developing individuals were presented with a musical pitch and two prosody discrimination tasks. In the musical pitch discrimination task, participants were required to distinguish whether two musical tones were the same or different. The prosody discrimination tasks evaluated participants’ skills for discriminating pairs of prosodic contours based on pitch or pitch, loudness and length, jointly. In WS, musical pitch discrimination was significantly correlated with performance on the prosody task assessing the discrimination of prosodic contours based on pitch only. Furthermore, musical pitch discrimination skills predicted performance on the prosody task based on pitch, and this relationship was not better explained by chronological age, vocabulary or auditory memory. These results suggest that children with WS process pitch in music and prosody through shared mechanisms. We discuss the implications of these results for theories of cognitive modularity. The implications of these results for intervention programs for individuals with WS are also discussed.