Diffusion tensor MRI tractography reveals increased fractional anisotropy (FA) in arcuate fasciculus following music-cued motor training

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Abstract

Auditory cues are frequently used to support movement learning and rehabilitation, but the neural basis of this behavioural effect is not yet clear. We investigated the microstructural neuroplasticity effects of adding musical cues to a motor learning task. We hypothesised that music-cued, left-handed motor training would increase fractional anisotropy (FA) in the contralateral arcuate fasciculus, a fibre tract connecting auditory, pre-motor and motor regions. Thirty right-handed participants were assigned to a motor learning condition either with (Music Group) or without (Control Group) musical cues. Participants completed 20 minutes of training three times per week over four weeks. Diffusion tensor MRI and probabilistic neighbourhood tractography identified FA, axial (AD) and radial (RD) diffusivity before and after training. Results revealed that FA increased significantly in the right arcuate fasciculus of the Music group only, as hypothesised, with trends for AD to increase and RD to decrease, a pattern of results consistent with activity-dependent increases in myelination. No significant changes were found in the left ipsilateral arcuate fasciculus of either group. This is the first evidence that adding musical cues to movement learning can induce rapid microstructural change in white matter pathways in adults, with potential implications for therapeutic clinical practice.

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