Music in premature infants enhances high-level cognitive brain networks

May 31, 2019  14:10

Preterm babies are cared for in neonatal intensive care units (NICU), which are busy places with a lot of mechanical noise increasingly recognized to disrupt normal brain development. NICUs therefore invest in developmental care procedures, with music for example, but neurobiological evidence for these interventions is missing. We present results from a clinical trial to study the effects of a music intervention on preterm infants’ brain development. Based on resting-state fMRI, we provide evidence that music enhanced connectivity in a brain circuitry involving the salience network with regions implicated in sensory and higher-order cognitive functions, previously found to be altered in preterm infants. To our knowledge, this study is unique in observing an impact of music on brain development in preterm newborns.

Neonatal intensive care units are willing to apply environmental enrichment via music for preterm newborns. However, no evidence of an effect of music on preterm brain development has been reported to date. Using resting-state fMRI, we characterized a circuitry of interest consisting of three network modules interconnected by the salience network that displays reduced network coupling in preterm compared with full-term newborns. Interestingly, preterm infants exposed to music in the neonatal intensive care units have significantly increased coupling between brain networks previously shown to be decreased in premature infants: the salience network with the superior frontal, auditory, and sensorimotor networks, and the salience network with the thalamus and precuneus networks. Therefore, music exposure leads to functional brain architectures that are more similar to those of full-term newborns, providing evidence for a beneficial effect of music on the preterm brain.

Full article: PNAS

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