Listening to classical music modulates genes that are responsible for brain functions

Although listening to music is common in all societies, the biological determinants of listening to music are largely unknown. According to a latest study, listening to classical music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic neurotransmission, learning and memory, and down-regulated the genes mediating neurodegeneration. Several of the up-regulated genes were known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds, suggesting a common evolutionary background of sound perception across species.

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. A Finnish study group has investigated how listening to classical music affected the gene expression profiles of both musically experienced and inexperienced participants. All the participants listened to W.A. Mozart’s violin concert Nr 3, G-major, K.216 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.

“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”, says Dr. Irma Järvelä, the leader of the study.

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”, researchers remark.

Classical music, whether you love it or hate it, has been a powerful cultural force for centuries. While it no longer dominates the music scene, the argument for continued appreciation of the genre goes far beyond pure aural aesthetics. Classical music has been lauded for its ability to do everything from improve intelligence to reduce stress, and despite some exaggeration of its benefits, science shows us that it actually does have a marked effect on the brain in a number of positive ways.

Emotional expression in music and speech affect the brain similarly.

Music is a very strong form of emotional communication across all cultures, but why? Research may have the answer. Studies show that music, including classical arrangements, has the ability to send chills down your spine or make your heart swell with joy through its use of different musical modes. For example, in Western music, the major mode is associated with excited, happy emotions, the minor with sad emotions. Similar results were found in other cultures around the world despite differences in the emotions that these cultures associate with the varying modes. The reason these musical modes have the ability to convey so much emotion is because they imitate the tonal characteristics of emotion in the voice, tapping into our innate communicative abilities and our cultural associations alike.

Classical music can help reduce pain and anxiety.

Certain medical procedures aren’t especially pleasant to undergo, leaving patients feeling uncomfortable and anxious. Music, research suggests, can be a helpful remedy. Researchers at Duke Cancer Institute found that wearing noise-canceling headphones playing classical music (in this case concertos by Bach) reduced the pain and anxiety of a prostate biopsy. Generally, the procedure causes a spike in diastolic blood pressure as the result of stress and anxiety, but in the men who listened to the music, there was no such spike. Additionally, those who wore headphones reported significantly less pain associated with the procedure. Researchers believe that this method will be an inexpensive way to help make this and other medical procedures less frightening for patients by altering their mental and physical responses to them through use of classical music.

Listening to classical music modulates genes that are responsible for brain functions 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.


The responsible researcher of the study is MSc (bioinformatics) Chakravarthi Kanduri from the University of Helsinki. The study protocol was designed by MuD Pirre Raijas and associate professor Irma Järvelä, University of Helsinki, with the help of Professor Harri Lähdesmäki, Aalto University. The Academy of Finland and the Biomedicum Helsinki Foundation have financed the study.

Classical music may foster brain development in children.

While playing classical music 24/7 for your children won’t help them to become geniuses, some studies suggest that it does have effect, though perhaps not as drastic of one as those selling classical music learning programs for kids would like you to believe. In a study conducted by Dr. Gordon Shaw of the University of California-Irvine, it was found that infants who listened to Mozart and then studied piano as children scored higher than other children in math. Other studies have found that music listening and practice can help children develop spatial and verbal skills and can also foster self-control.

Some cities use classical music to reduce crime.

Classical music as a crime deterrent? Sounds crazy, but it has worked for several cities around the world. In London, city officials began playing classical music at several stations in 2003. A year and a half later, robberies had dropped by a third, assaults on staff by a quarter, and vandalism by 37%. In Portland, a similar effect was found. When transit authorities began piping classical tunes into a high-crime rail station, calls to police at the station dropped by 40%. These cities aren’t alone. Minneapolis, Atlanta, Toronto, and New York have also used classical music as a crime deterrent. It’s not quite clear what effect the music has on would-be criminals, however. Some believe it has a soothing effect, others suggest that it gives the appearance of order and civility that deters crime on its own. In some cases, it may simply drive those away who don’t have a taste for the genre. Whatever the reason, classical music seems to be a cheap and effective way for cities to improve the safety of their transit systems.


Chakravarthi Kanduri
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


University of Helsinki



Provided by ArmMed Media