Musical training at an early age may lead to the increased growth of certain brain regions, according to a new study presented Friday at the 53rd annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia."We were interested to know whether intense environmental demands such as musical training at an early age influenced actual brain growth and development," Gottfried Schlaug, the lead researcher says. "Musicians typically commence training at an early age, making them ideal subjects for this type of investigation."

His team looked at high-resolution anatomical datasets obtained through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sequences of the brains of 15 male professional musicians and a test group of non-musicians. They found that the musicians had more gray matter volume in the left and right primary sensorimotor regions, the left basal ganglia region and the left posterior perisylvian region and the cerebellum. More work is needed to confirm that a causal relationship between intense, long-term motor training and structural changes in brain regions exists. As Schlaug says, "an alternative explanation may be that these musicians were born with these differences, which may draw them toward their musical gift."