Genes Involved in Memory and Learning Activated when Professional Musicians Perform

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

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.

This image shows sheet music and a violin. A strand of DNA is overlayed.

Playing music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopaminergic neurotransmission, motor function, learning and memory. The image is for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: NeuroscienceNews.com.

“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.

About this memory and learning research

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.

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.

Contact: Chakravarthi Kanduri, M.Sc. – University of Helsinki
Source: University of Helsinki press release
Image Source: The image is adapted from public domain images and is credited to NeuroscienceNews.com
Original Research: Full open access research for “The effect of music performance on the transcriptome of professional musicians” by Chakravarthi Kanduri, Tuire Kuusi, Minna Ahvenainen, Anju K. Philips, Harri Lähdesmäki and Irma Järvelä in Scientific Reports. Published online March 25 2015 doi:10.1038/srep09506

Open Access Neuroscience Abstract

The effect of music performance on the transcriptome of professional musicians

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.

“The effect of music performance on the transcriptome of professional musicians” by Chakravarthi Kanduri, Tuire Kuusi, Minna Ahvenainen, Anju K. Philips, Harri Lähdesmäki and Irma Järvelä in Scientific Reports. doi:10.1038/srep09506.

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