This is Your Brain on a Mozart Violin Concerto
According to a study done at the University of Helsinki in 2015, listening to classical music enhances the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic neurotransmission, learning and memory, and down-regulates the genes mediating neurodegeneration. Several of the up-regulated genes have previously been shown to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds.
A release from the university quotes study leader Dr. Irma Järvelä as saying, “The up-regulation of several genes that are known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds suggest a shared evolutionary background of sound perception between vocalizing birds and humans.”
The release notes 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 Finnish study group 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 concerto #3 in G-major that lasts 20 minutes.
Listening to music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic function, learning and memory. 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.
In contrast, listening to music down-regulated genes that are associated with neurodegeneration, referring to a neuroprotective role of music.
“The effect was only detectable in musically experienced participants, suggesting the importance of familiarity and experience in mediating music-induced effects”, the researchers remark.
The findings give new information about the molecular genetic background of music perception and evolution, and may give further insights about the molecular mechanisms underlying music therapy.