According to a recent announcement from the University of Helsinki, Finland, listening to classical music enhances the activity of genes responsible for brain functions, including dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic neurotransmission, learning, and memory. A study by a Finnish team of researchers showed that listening to classical music down-regulated genes that mediate neurodegeneration, and up-regulated several genes known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds, suggesting a common evolutionary background of sound perception across species. An article about this study appeared in the March 12, 2015 edition of the online journal PeerJ.

The Finnish researchers report that listening to music represents a complex cognitive function of the human brain, which is known to induce several neuronal and physiological changes. However, the molecular background underlying the effects of listening to music is largely unknown. The researchers investigated how listening to classical music affected the gene expression profiles of both musically experienced and inexperienced participants. All the participants listened to Mozart’s violin concert Nr 3, G-major.

The research team found that listening to this music enhanced the activity of genes involved in many brain functions. One of the most up-regulated genes, synuclein-alpha (SNCA) is a known risk gene for Parkinson’s disease that is located in the strongest linkage region of musical aptitude. SNCA is also known to contribute to song learning in songbirds.

“The up-regulation of several genes that are known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds suggests a shared evolutionary background of sound perception between vocalizing birds and humans,” said Irma Järvelä, MD, PhD, associate professor, Department of Medical Genetics, University of Helsinki, and a lead researcher in the study.

In contrast, listening to music down-regulated genes that are associated with neurodegeneration, which indicates that listening to music may have a neuroprotective effect.

“The effect was only detectable in musically experienced participants, suggesting the importance of familiarity and experience in mediating music-induced effects,” the researchers remarked in a University of Helsinki announcement. Their findings provide new information about the molecular genetic background of music perception and evolution, and may provide further insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying music therapy.

Source: University of Helsinki, PeerJ

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