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Showing entries tagged development.  Show all entries

December 4, 2011

Practice makes perfect- Training your brain for music


Were you ever forced to learn an instrument as a young child? Did you ever hear the dreadful words "have you practiced today" or did you have to have your parents sign papers indicating that you did indeed practice 1hr of flute each day, so that you may receive an A in music class. Or were you one of the fortunate children who actually enjoyed playing an instrument?
The common notion is that practicing music has beneficial effects. In addition we often say that musicians are wired differently, that they approach problems differently. But what does that mean in the neuroanatomical sense?
A study by Christian Gaser and Gottfried Schlaug compared brain regions of musicians and non-musicians with the voxel-by-voxel morphometirc technique to try and uncover anatomical differences amongst the two groups' brain structures.
Their approach was to say that musicians learn certain motor and auditory skills in their musical practice, and that such learning would evoke some difference in the brains of adult musicians compared to non-musicians. Their results provided grounds that there was indeed a difference in brain anatomy between the test subjects, a volumetric difference in the gray matter. Musicians had a larger gray matter in the motor, auditory and spatial-visual areas of the brain than non-musicians. However the researchers were unable to determine whether or not this difference was predisposed or acquired. The researchers suggest that the difference in gray matter volume is induced through practice rather than being predisposed, however they were unable to prove their hypothesis since their experiment did not specifically focus on the issue.
Several years later one of the researchers, Gottfried Schlaug, teamed up with several other researchers to focus on the brain development of young musicians. This experiment measured the regional brain plasticity of young children. One group received musical training for 15 months while the other didn't. Their results indicated that children with musical training did indeed have a greater voxel size expansion meaning it diverged from the typical brain development.
Even though the results indicated that musical training does result in increasing gray matter of certain anatomical regions in the brain, the researchers could not completely rule out the idea of a genetic predisposition. Meaning the question whether nature or nurture is responsible for the volumetric difference, still stands. Do we have to be born a musician or can we learn to be one. Either way, both papers seem to indicate that there are beneficial factors to learning an instrument at a young age. So for those of us who were forced to learn an instrument, it indicates that no harm was done at least not in the conventional sense. A fear from pianos (pianophobia)_or other instruments (instrumentophobia) due to horrid enslaving teachers is a different story, one that would take us more into the direction of psychology. But if your parents are still disappointed that you didn't turn out to be a great musician, just indicate that nature might still have a role and that maybe you just weren't meant to be the next Beethoven.



Original Sources:
Gaser, C., Schlaug, G; (2003). Brain Structures Differ Between Musicians and Non-Musicians. The Journal of Neuroscience. 23.27.

Hyde, K. L., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A. C., Schlaug, G., (2009). Musical Training Shapes Structural Brain development. The Journal of neuroscience. 29, 10.
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December 1, 2011

Neocortex: Why We are Better


The neocortex is the outer layer of the cerebral hemispheres, where in humans, is believed to be involved in higher functions such as language, conscious thought, sensory perceptions, etc. There has been a high volume of interest and debate among developmental neurobiologists regarding the molecular mechanisms/molecules involved in differentiation and development of the neocortex. But to start with, the question is, why specifically this region of the brain?

The neocortex is not known to be present throughout the animal kingdom, but is presumed to be specific to mammals. For example, we, humans, are able to perform particular functions and have a higher order of thinking due to the mechanisms/processes of the neocortex. Therefore, the unknown entities and development of the neocortex is a highly talked about subject within this field because it can help explain the evolution of human behavior and the known generates high interest as many researchers seek answers about the development of mankind.

Therefore, within the past 20 years, there has been significant progress in identifying certain patterning of the neocortex through state-of-the-art molecular approaches, however, we are still very far from knowing the complete truth. For example, we now know that the anterior-posterior orientation has a genetic impact that if altered, can lead to diseases such as smooth brain syndrome. In this case it is the alterations of the concentration gradients of two molecules, DCX anteriorly and LIS1 posteriorly. Additionally, there is now pertinent evidence of genetic patterning that is symmetric between the two hemispheres, that if altered, can also lead to severe phenotypes. Another concept at large debate is whether the differentiation and development of the neocortex is more dependent on intrinsic or extrinsic mechanisms, in which informs our understanding on the developmental plasticity phenomena, critiquing the importance of critical and sensitive periods. In other words, how much is the regionalization of areas in the neocortex affected by varying the levels of essential transcription factors?

Besides the uses of molecular techniques, Chen and his colleagues are investigating these questions through a combination of twin studies and structural MRI to demonstrate the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors in regionalization of the cerebral cortex. Therefore, they have concluded that although "genetic factors may have a boisterous influence in the establishment of regionalization of the cortex, functional areas do not seem to be influenced by the same factors," implementing that those environmental factors can also play a significant role in neuro-development.

With the newly employed combination of these analytical studies and ultimate hype on the development of the neocortex, this marks an exciting new chapter on the study of human brain development, where we can hopefully determine the genetic and environmental factors that determine the higher order functions of human/mammalian brain. Furthermore, with this marked data and more advanced research on the human brain development to come, we may one day find more genetic or environmental patterning of the brain that can lead to cures of diseases that are defined as incurable today.

Schlagger, B. "Mapping Genetic Influences On Cortical Regionalization." Neuron. Volume 74, Issue 4. Pg. 499-501. 17 November 2011.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627311009597

Sarah Ha
Posted by      Sarah H. at 11:01 AM MST
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Do you know how new this field of study is?
Posted on Sun, 4 Dec 2011 4:09 PM MST by Christina U.




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