Functional specializations for music processing in the human newborn brain

Daniela Perani, Maria Cristina Saccuman, Paola Scifo, Danilo Spada, Guido Andreolli, Rosanna Rovelli, Cristina Baldoli, Stefan Koelsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In adults, specific neural systems with right-hemispheric weighting are necessary to process pitch,melody, and harmony as well as structure and meaning emerging frommusical sequences. It is not known to what extent the specialization of these systems results from long-term exposure to music or from neurobiological constraints. One way to address this question is to examine how these systems function at birth, when auditory experience is minimal. We used functional MRI to measure brain activity in 1- to 3-day-old newborns while they heard excerpts of Western tonal music and altered versions of the same excerpts. Altered versions either included changes of the tonal key or were permanently dissonant. Music evoked predominantly right-hemispheric activations in primary and higher order auditory cortex. During presentation of the altered excerpts, hemodynamic responses were significantly reduced in the right auditory cortex, and activations emerged in the left inferior frontal cortex and limbic structures. These results demonstrate that the infant brain shows a hemispheric specialization in processing music as early as the first postnatal hours. Results also indicate 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4758-4763
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Mar 9 2010


  • Auditory cortex
  • Emotion
  • Functional MRI
  • Neonates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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