5 de mayo de 2012

Subcortical encoding of sound is enhanced in bilinguals and relates to executive function advantages


Bilingualism profoundly affects the brain, yielding functional and structural changes in cortical regions dedicated to language processing and executive function [Crinion J, et al. (2006) Science 312:1537–1540; Kim KHS, et al. (1997) Nature 388:171–174]. Comparatively, musical training, another type of sensory enrichment, translates to expertise in cognitive processing and refined biological processing of sound in both cortical and subcortical structures. Therefore, we asked whether bilingualism can also promote experience-dependent plasticity in subcortical auditory processing. We found that adolescent bilinguals, listening to the speech syllable [da], encoded the stimulus more robustly than age-matched monolinguals. Specifically, bilinguals showed enhanced encoding of the fundamental frequency, a feature known to underlie pitch perception and grouping of auditory objects. This enhancement was associated with executive function advantages. Thus, through experience-related tuning of attention, the bilingual auditory system becomes highly efficient in automatically processing sound. This study provides biological evidence for system-wide neural plasticity in auditory experts that facilitates a tight coupling of sensory and cognitive functions.