Functional and structural connectivity for language and music processing at birth

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To investigate how the immature brain systems that mediate language and music processing are organized, we performed fMRI studies in 2-day-old newborns (Perani et al. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 107(10):4758-4763, 2010, Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 108(38):16056-16061, 2011). The experiments compare language and music when auditory stimuli are presented embedded or not with artificial manipulations. Our main scope was to investigate whether brain lateralization for music and language functions shown in adults and older children is established already at birth and, further, how prosody modulates the activation patterns for language stimuli. These experiments allowed us to explore early brain predisposition for music and language processing and the relationship between language precursors and music. First, we found a right hemispheric predominance in processing music as early as the first postnatal hours. The fMRI results also indicated that the neural architecture underlying music processing in newborns is sensitive to changes in tonal key, as well as to differences in consonance and dissonance. Second, we showed that at birth, the language-related neural substrate is fully active in both hemispheres, but that the functional and structural connectivity within this network are immature. Thus, although the brain responds to spoken language already at birth thereby providing strong evidence for a neural disposition to acquire language, progressive maturation of intra-hemispheric functional connectivity are yet to be established with language exposure as the brain develops. These results reconcile the role of nature and nurture for language acquisition in humans and also support the assumption that music and language are intimately connected in early life sharing part of the same neural pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-314
Number of pages10
JournalRendiconti Lincei
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012


  • Auditory cortex
  • Functional MRI
  • Language
  • Music
  • Neonates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)


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