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Keywords:

  • asymmetry;
  • dipole source localization;
  • motor performance;
  • SEP;
  • TMS mapping

Abstract

As a model for use-dependent plasticity, the brains of professional musicians have been extensively studied to examine structural and functional adaptation to unique requirements of skilled performance. Here we provide a combination of data on motor performance and hand representation in the primary motor and somatosensory cortex of professional violin players, with the aim of assessing possible behavioural consequences of sensorimotor cortical asymmetries. We studied 15 healthy right-handed professional violin players and 35 healthy nonmusician controls. Motor and somatosensory cortex asymmetry was assessed by recording the motor output map after transcranial magnetic stimulation from a small hand muscle, and by dipole source localization of somatosensory evoked potentials after electrical stimulation of the median and ulnar nerves. Motor performance was examined using a series of standardized motor tasks covering different aspects of hand function. Violin players showed a significant right-larger-than-left asymmetry of the motor and somatosensory cortex, whereas nonmusician controls showed no significant interhemispheric difference. The amount of asymmetry in the motor and somatosensory cortices of musicians was significantly correlated. At the behavioural level, motor performance did not significantly differ between musicians and nonmusicians. The results support a use-dependent enlargement of the left hand representation in the sensorimotor cortex of violin players. However, these cortical asymmetries were not paralleled by accompanying altered asymmetries at a behavioural level, suggesting that the reorganisation might be task-specific and does not lead to improved motor abilities in general.