This article is part of the Research Topic The musical brain

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Syst. Neurosci., 03 December 2013 |

Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch

  • 1Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, CNRS, Paris, France
  • 2Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Paris, France
  • 3Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Mental Health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • 4Department of Linguistics, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
  • 5School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
  • 6Department of Molecular Cellular Biology, Center for Brain Science, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
  • 7Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • 8Centre for Affective Disorders, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK

Absolute pitch, the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a sound without a reference point, has a critical period, i.e., it can only be acquired early in life. However, research has shown that histone-deacetylase inhibitors (HDAC inhibitors) enable adult mice to establish perceptual preferences that are otherwise impossible to acquire after youth. In humans, we found that adult men who took valproate (VPA) (a HDAC inhibitor) learned to identify pitch significantly better than those taking placebo—evidence that VPA facilitated critical-period learning in the adult human brain. Importantly, this result was not due to a general change in cognitive function, but rather a specific effect on a sensory task associated with a critical-period.

Keywords: critical period reopening, learning, absolute pitch, valproate, histone-deacetylase inhibitors, human adults

Citation: Gervain J, Vines BW, Chen LM, Seo RJ, Hensch TK, Werker JF and Young AH (2013) Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch. Front. Syst. Neurosci. 7:102. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2013.00102

Received: 31 May 2013; Accepted: 16 November 2013;
Published online: 03 December 2013.

Edited by:

Robert J. Zatorre, McGill University, Canada

Reviewed by:

Sarah J. Wilson, University of Melbourne, Australia
Peter Vuust, Aarhus University, Denmark

Copyright © 2013 Gervain, Vines, Chen, Seo, Hensch, Werker and Young. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

Present address: Lawrence M. Chen, Integrated Program in Neuroscience, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada;
Bradley W. Vines, Nielsen NeuroFocus, Cincinnati, OH, USA

*Correspondence: Allan H. Young, Centre for Affective Disorders, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, PO72 de Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill, London SE5 8AF, UK e-mail: