Experience-dependent modulation of right anterior insula and sensorimotor regions as a function of noise-masked auditory feedback in singers and nonsingers

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Previous studies on vocal motor production in singing suggest that the right anterior insula (AI) plays a role in experience-dependent modulation of feedback integration. Specifically, when somatosensory input was reduced via anesthesia of the vocal fold mucosa, right AI activity was down regulated in trained singers. In the current fMRI study, we examined how masking of auditory feedback affects pitch-matching accuracy and corresponding brain activity in the same participants. We found that pitch-matching accuracy was unaffected by masking in trained singers yet declined in nonsingers. The corresponding brain region with the most differential and interesting activation pattern was the right AI, which was up regulated during masking in singers but down regulated in nonsingers. Likewise, its functional connectivity with inferior parietal, frontal, and voice-relevant sensorimotor areas was increased in singers yet decreased in nonsingers. These results indicate that singers relied more on somatosensory feedback, whereas nonsingers depended more critically on auditory feedback. When comparing auditory vs somatosensory feedback involvement, the right anterior insula emerged as the only region for correcting intended vocal output by modulating what is heard or felt as a function of singing experience. We propose the right anterior insula as a key node in the brain's singing network for the integration of signals of salience across multiple sensory and cognitive domains to guide vocal behavior.

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