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Playing music by professional musicians activates genes for learning and memory

Playing music by professional musicians activates genes responsible for brain function and singing of songbirds

University of Helsinki

Music performance is known to induce structural and functional changes to the human brain and enhance cognition. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying music performance have been so far unexplored. A Finnish research group has now investigated the effect of music performance (in a 2 hr concert) on the gene expression profiles of professional musicians from Tapiola Sinfonietta (a professional orchestra) and Sibelius-Academy (a music university).

Playing music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopaminergic neurotransmission, motor function, learning and memory. Some of the up-regulated genes like SNCA, FOS and DUSP1 are known to contribute to song perception and production in songbirds suggesting a potential evolutionary conservation in molecular mechanisms related to sound production across species.

In addition, several of the up-regulated genes are known to be involved in biological pathways like calcium ion homeostasis and iron ion homeostasis that are essential for neuronal function, survival and neuroprotection.

"The findings provide a valuable background for molecular studies of music perception and evolution, and music therapy", says the leader of the study, Dr. Irma Järvelä from the University of Helsinki.

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The responsible researcher of the study "The effect of music performance on the transcriptome of professional musicians" is MSc (bioinformatics) Chakravarthi Kanduri from the University of Helsinki. The study was published in Scientific Reports.

This study belongs to the Finnish research project where biological background of music is being studied using genomic and bioinformatics approaches. The expert in music in the study is MuD Tuire Kuusi from the Helsinki University of Arts, the expert in bioinformatics is Professor Harri Lähdesmäki, Aalto University. The principal investigator is associate professor Irma Järvelä, University of Helsinki. Funding: the Academy of Finland and the Biomedicum Helsinki Foundation.

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