Music affects on the brain

A recent paper identified genes that changed their expression as a result of music performance in trained musicians. (see citation below). There were a surprising number of affected genes, 51 genes had increased and 22 had decreased expression, compared to controls who were also trained musicians but were not involved in making or listening to music for the same time period. It is also impressive that this set of 73 genes has a very broad range of presumed functions and effects in the brain.

Another interesting aspect is the overlap of a number of these genes with some that have been identified in song birds. This implies that the music/sophisticated sound perception and production has been conserved from a common ancestor of birds and mammals.

It has been known for some time that musical training has a positive effect on intelligence and outlook – that it assists learning. Musical training changes the structure of the brain. Now scientists are starting to trace the biology of music’s effects. Isn’t it about time that education stopped treating music (and other arts for that matter) as unimportant frills? It should not be the first thing to go when money or teaching time is short.

Here is the Abstract:

Music performance by professional musicians involves a wide-spectrum of cognitive and multi-sensory motor skills, whose biological basis is unknown. Several neuroscientific studies have demonstrated that the brains of professional musicians and non-musicians differ structurally and functionally and that musical training enhances cognition. However, the molecules and molecular mechanisms involved in music performance remain largely unexplored. Here, we investigated the effect of music performance on the genome-wide peripheral blood transcriptome of professional musicians by analyzing the transcriptional responses after a 2-hr concert performance and after a ‘music-free’ control session. The up-regulated genes were found to affect dopaminergic neurotransmission, motor behavior, neuronal plasticity, and neurocognitive functions including learning and memory. Particularly, candidate genes such as SNCA, FOS and DUSP1 that are involved in song perception and production in songbirds, were identified, suggesting an evolutionary conservation in biological processes related to sound perception/production. Additionally, modulation of genes related to calcium ion homeostasis, iron ion homeostasis, glutathione metabolism, and several neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases implied that music performance may affect the biological pathways that are otherwise essential for the proper maintenance of neuronal function and survival. For the first time, this study provides evidence for the candidate genes and molecular mechanisms underlying music performance.”

Kanduri, C., Kuusi, T., Ahvenainen, M., Philips, A., Lähdesmäki, H., & Järvelä, I. (2015). The effect of music performance on the transcriptome of professional musicians Scientific Reports, 5 DOI: 10.1038/srep09506

2 thoughts on “Music affects on the brain

  1. Mary O'Keefe

    I found this post to be very interesting. As a person who grew up playing sports all the time rather than playing music, it is hard to see that I missed out on enhancing my brain development by not having musical training. It is fascinating to see that a simple tone, frequency, or pitch achieved through music enters in your ears and stimulates certain genes to be activated. It was also compelling to ponder on the notion that birds and mammals have a common link through these music-based genes (which are also found in the songbird). I believe we can also use this development in the current school system. It mentions that musical training has an important effect on intelligence and enhances learning by changing the structure of the brain. So, having children enrolled music classes is extremely important in order to stimulate their brains in a different way and help with their overall learning experience. This post really opened my eyes to the importance of music education through its biological perspective.

    1. JKwasniak Post author

      A recent post on gibbons also highlights music in a primate other than ourselves. I think it does not matter whether a child takes lessons or is motivated to learn to play by ear - they will get the benefit. But making music gives them something over and above just listening to it. Music has been in school curriculums since before medieval times, until recently when it started to be considered a frill. Now parents have to recognize its importance.


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