The first genetic imaging study linking dopaminergic genes to music

Sounds, such as music and noise, are able to reliably affect individuals’ moods and emotions, possibly by regulating brain dopamine, a neurotransmitter strongly involved in emotional behavior and mood regulation. .

However, the relationship of sound environments with mood and emotions is highly variable between individuals. A putative source of variability is the genetic background.

In this regard, a new genetic imaging study led by Professor Elvira Brattico of the University of Aarhus and carried out in two Italian hospitals in collaboration with the University of Helsinki (Finland) has provided the first evidence that the effects of music and noise on affective behavior and brain physiology are associated with genetically determined dopaminergic functionality.

In particular, this study, published in the journal Neurosciencerevealed that a functional variation in the dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2 rs1076560) modulates the impact of music as opposed to noise on mood states and emotion-related prefrontal and striatal brain activity, highlighting evidence of differential sensitivity to the affect-modulating effects of music and noise on GG and GT genotypes.

In more detail, the results showed an improvement in mood after music exposure in GG subjects and a deterioration in mood after noise exposure in GT subjects. Additionally, music, as opposed to the sound environment, decreased the striatal activity of GT subjects as well as the prefrontal activity of GG subjects when processing emotional faces.

These results are novel in identifying a biological source of variability in the impact of sound environments on emotional responses. The first author of the study, Tiziana Quarto, Ph.D. studying at the University of Helsinki under the supervision of Professor Brattico, further comments:

“Our approach has made it possible to observe the link between genes and phenotypes via a real biological pathway that goes from functional genetic variations (whose effects on molecular function are known) to the brain physiology underlying behavior. The use of this approach is particularly important when the behavior under study is complex and highly variable between subjects, as this means that many biological factors are involved.”

“This study represents the first use of the genetic imaging approach in the field of music and sounds in general. We are really excited about our results because they suggest that even a non-pharmacological intervention such as music could regulate the mood and emotional responses at both behavioral and neural levels,” explains Professor Elvira Brattico.

“Most importantly, these findings encourage the search for personalized music-based interventions for the treatment of brain disorders associated with aberrant dopamine neurotransmission as well as abnormal mood and emotion-related brain activity.”

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Material provided by Aarhus University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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