The Benefits of Music Therapy
Being a parent you must have heard about the good impact of classical music on child development.
You have read that music helps the young ones become more intelligent, attentive and sensitive. You even found it could influence their ability to learn languages and enhance memory.
While it sounds great and encourages parents to expose their kids to music stimuli, no molecular evidence on the effects of music on brain functions were provided until very recently.
A group of scientists led by Professor Irma Järvelä from the University of Helsinki described how exposure to music influences which genes are read and processed in our brains.
They reported that music exposure both stimulates more intense reading of one set of genes and inhibits the use of another set.
These effects did not occur when the same individuals were undertaking music unrelated activities.
The findings were described in two reports published in PeerJ and Scientific Reports journals. Professor Järvelä's group wanted to know if gene expression changes when people are either listening to or performing music.
To be able to answer this question, they compared the initial levels to which genes are read, with the levels reached after the music experience.
They investigated reactions of professional musicians and musically apt or musically educated people.
The studies showed that in the brain of musically educated people (over 10 years of education) 45 genes are read differently after 20 minutes of listening to well known compositions such as Violin Concerto No.3 in G major, K. 216 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Interestingly, in another group of musically skilled, but not necessarily musically educated people, the number of genes was higher and reached 97.
In another experiment, gene expression levels in the brain of professional musicians were verified before and after a 2 hour-long concert performance. In this group 73 differently read genes were identified.
These results demonstrate that experiencing music positively influences how our brain works.
Professor Järvelä's group found that genes with altered expression are involved in numerous important processes including brain plasticity (developing new neuronal connections), learning, memory, cognition and motor behaviour.
Some of the identified genes play an essential role in brain reward mechanism, as they control and positively stimulate secretion and transport of dopamine- one of the molecules through which neurons communicate.
Dopamine system is essential to sense pleasure in circumstances such as eating or sex, but its malfunction or dopamine lowered production can lead to Parkinson disease, ADHD and schizophrenia, among others.
One of the genes, where expression level increased the most was found to be involved directly in processes controlling musical aptitude.
Professor Järvelä commented on the discovery saying: 'Music is developing brain function and protecting it from harmful effects. The results show that familiar music is recommended as it has a positive effect on the human body. The results may explain the molecular mechanisms underlying music therapy.'
Interestingly, these studies also show that both in humans and songbirds the same genes are affected by music performance or listening.
'This tells us something about evolution of music and sound' said Professor Järvelä.
Maybe that is why bird songs are music to our ears!