White matter microstructural properties correlate with sensorimotor synchronization abilities

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Abstract

Sensorimotor synchronization (SMS) to an external auditory rhythm is a developed ability in humans, particularly evident in dancing and singing. This ability is typically measured in the lab via a simple task of finger tapping to an auditory beat. While simplistic, there is some evidence that poor performance on this task could be related to impaired phonological and reading abilities in children. Auditory-motor synchronization is hypothesized to rely on a tight coupling between auditory and motor neural systems, but the specific pathways that mediate this coupling have not been identified yet. In this study, we test this hypothesis and examine the contribution of fronto-temporal and callosal connections to specific measures of rhythmic synchronization. Twenty participants went through SMS and diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) measurements. We quantified the mean asynchrony between an auditory beat and participants' finger taps, as well as the time to resynchronize (TTR) with an altered meter, and examined the correlations between these behavioral measures and diffusivity in a small set of predefined pathways. We found significant correlations between asynchrony and fractional anisotropy (FA) in the left (but not right) arcuate fasciculus and in the temporal segment of the corpus callosum. On the other hand, TTR correlated with FA in the precentral segment of the callosum. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that relates these particular white matter tracts with performance on an auditory-motor rhythmic synchronization task. We propose that left fronto-temporal and temporal-callosal fibers are involved in prediction and constant comparison between auditory inputs and motor commands, while inter-hemispheric connections between the motor/premotor cortices contribute to successful resynchronization of motor responses with a new external rhythm, perhaps via inhibition of tapping to the previous rhythm. Our results indicate that auditory-motor synchronization skills are associated with anatomical pathways that have been previously related to phonological awareness, thus offering a possible anatomical basis for the behavioral covariance between these abilities.

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