Finding music in the brain: a stimulation study of an opera singer during awake surgery

Brain map

Music is one of the most fascinating functions of the brain. Singing, as a peculiar aspect of music, is even more complex. When we sing a song, we need to use both musical and linguistic skills.

The neural basis of singing is not clear until very recently. Using a brain stimulation technique, researchers from Italy located the singing function in the brain of a professional opera singer.

Brain stimulation is a surgical procedure that places a neurostimulator in the brain. The neurostimulator can send out electrical impulses to specific brain regions.

In the study, the singer had a presumed brain tumor and needed to do a surgery. During the surgery, he was awake and performed some music tasks, and researchers applied electrical stimulation onto his cortical surface to map music functions.

Researchers found that brain stimulation could cause errors in musical performance. When the simulation was applied onto the left frontal lobe, the singer made errors in a rhythm task.

When the stimulation was applied onto the left superior temporal gyrus, the singer made several errors in a score reading task.

The tumor was successfully removed in the surgery, and the signer recovered many music functions after that.

Researchers suggest that brain stimulation and a tailored music test are very helpful to find the brain network for music functions. This technique can be used to map other complex brain functions in the future.

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Citation: Riva M, Casarotti A, Comi A, Pessina F, Bello L. (2016). Brain and Music: An Intraoperative Stimulation Mapping Study of a Professional Opera Singer. World Neurosurgery. pii: S1878-8750(16)30518-6. doi: 10.1016/j.wneu.2016.06.130.
Figure legend: This image is credited to _DJ_/Flickr.