Voxel-based morphometry in opera singers: Increased gray-matter volume in right somatosensory and auditory cortices

Boris Kleber, Ralf Veit, Christina Valérie Moll, Christian Gaser, Niels Birbaumer, Martin Lotze

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In contrast to instrumental musicians, professional singers do not train on a specific instrument but perfect a motor system that has already been extensively trained during speech motor development. Previous functional imaging studies suggest that experience with singing is associated with enhanced somatosensory-based vocal motor control. However, experience-dependent structural plasticity in vocal musicians has rarely been studied. We investigated voxel-based morphometry (VBM) in 27 professional classical singers and compared gray matter volume in regions of the "singing-network" to an age-matched group of 28 healthy volunteers with no special singing experience. We found right hemispheric volume increases in professional singers in ventral primary somatosensory cortex (larynx S1) and adjacent rostral supramarginal gyrus (BA40), as well as in secondary somatosensory (S2) and primary auditory cortices (A1). Moreover, we found that earlier commencement with vocal training correlated with increased gray-matter volume in S1. However, in contrast to studies with instrumental musicians, this correlation only emerged in singers who began their formal training after the age of 14years, when speech motor development has reached its first plateau. Structural data thus confirm and extend previous functional reports suggesting a pivotal role of somatosensation in vocal motor control with increased experience in singing. Results furthermore indicate a sensitive period for developing additional vocal skills after speech motor coordination has matured.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477-83
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


  • Journal Article


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