A considerable body of research suggests that musical tasks can be utilized as effective treatment for acquired linguistic disorders like aphasia. A widely-accepted theoretical rationale for this clinical effectiveness is that the neural networks underlying music and language processing and production are overlapping but not identical, so that use of a (largely undamaged) music network can scaffold or support the damaged nodes of a linguistic network (the “shared resources hypothesis”). However, this hypothesis has been challenged by recent innovative research using single-subject high-resolution brain imaging which suggests that individual’s music and language regions do not overlap, and that apparent overlap is due to multi-subject averaging. If true for all brain regions, this has negative implications for our understanding of the neurophysiological basis of music therapy in aphasia. However, this new finding may only be true for specific components of music and language (many of which have yet to be investigated such as rhythmic “syntax”), or only hold for particular sub-populations (e.g. non-musicians).
This project aims to resolve these issues by adopting a multi-pronged approach, both verifying and extending the single-subject methods and analyses already in the literature and adding new tasks focused on unstudied components of the music and language networks. We will also investigate similarities and differences between highly-trained professional musicians with amateurs or non-musicians to evaluate the role of expertise in defining music and language nodes and determining how they overlap (or not). Finally, we will use the results of these investigations on normal participants as the basis for an innovative new clinical approach, using brain stimulation of empirically-uncovered “overlap nodes” in music and language, along with melodic intonation therapy, to advance clinical efficacy of aphasia therapy.
This project builds on an existing highly-successful collaboration between the two PIs that was initiated by a earlier research cluster grant, and pushes this collaboration in exciting new clinically-relevant directions. This is a highly-synergistic collaboration that combines the existing interests and expertise of the two labs in a way that neither alone could achieve. It also fits nicely into current initiatives to strengthen neuroscience and increase multi-institutional collaborations in Vienna. Finally it makes unique use of the availability of large numbers of professional musicians in the “city of music” to address a question of both central theoretical interest in cognitive neuroscience and considerable importance in clinical treatment of aphasic patients. Attractive media coverage is expected.