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Musical hallucinations: a brief review of functional neuroimaging findings

  • Francesco Bernardini (a1), Luigi Attademo (a2), Karen Blackmon (a3) and Orrin Devinsky (a3)


Musical hallucinations are uncommon phenomena characterized by intrusive and frequently distressful auditory musical percepts without an external source, often associated with hypoacusis, psychiatric illness, focal brain lesion, epilepsy, and intoxication/pharmacology. Their physiological basis is thought to involve diverse mechanisms, including “release” from normal sensory or inhibitory inputs as well as stimulation during seizures, or they can be produced by functional or structural disorders in diverse cortical and subcortical areas. The aim of this review is to further explore their pathophysiology, describing the functional neuroimaging findings regarding musical hallucinations. A literature search of the PubMed electronic database was conducted through to 29 December 2015. Search terms included “musical hallucinations” combined with the names of specific functional neuroimaging techniques. A total of 18 articles, all clinical case reports, providing data on 23 patients, comprised the set we reviewed. Diverse pathological processes and patient populations with musical hallucinations were included in the studies. Converging data from multiple studies suggest that the superior temporal sulcus is the most common site and that activation is the most common mechanism. Further neurobiological research is needed to clarify the pathophysiology of musical hallucinations.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: Francesco Bernardini, Department of Psychiatry, Erasme Hospital, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Route de Lennik 808, 1070 Anderlecht, Belgium. (Email:


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