Task-dependent modulation of functional connectivity between hand motor cortices and neuronal networks underlying language and music: a transcranial magnetic stimulation study in humans


Dr Roland Sparing, as above.
E-mail: r.sparing@fz-juelich.de


Although language functions are, in general, attributed to the left hemisphere, it is still a matter of debate to what extent the cognitive functions underlying the processing of music are lateralized in the human brain. To investigate hemispheric specialization we evaluated the effect of different overt musical and linguistic tasks on the excitability of both left and right hand motor cortices using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Task-dependent changes of the size of the TMS-elicited motor evoked potentials were recorded in 12 right-handed, musically naive subjects during and after overt speech, singing and humming, i.e. the production of melody without word articulation. The articulation of meaningless syllables served as control condition. We found reciprocal lateralized effects of overt speech and musical tasks on motor cortex excitability. During overt speech, the corticospinal projection of the left (i.e. dominant) hemisphere to the right hand was facilitated. In contrast, excitability of the right motor cortex increased during both overt singing and humming, whereas no effect was observed on the left hemisphere. Although the traditional concept of hemispheric lateralization of music has been challenged by recent neuroimaging studies, our findings demonstrate that right-hemisphere preponderance of music is nevertheless present. We discuss our results in terms of the recent concepts on evolution of language and gesture, which hypothesize that cerebral networks mediating hand movement and those subserving language processing are functionally linked. TMS may constitute a useful tool to further investigate the relationship between cortical representations of motor functions, music and language using comparative approaches.