The function of the candidate genes implicated in the study ranges from inner-ear development to auditory neurocognitive processes, suggesting that musical aptitude is affected by a combination of genes involved in the auditory pathway, researchers said.

The perception of music starts with specialised hair cells in the inner ear, which transmit sounds as electronic signals through the auditory pathway to the auditory cortex, where sounds are primarily recognised.

In addition to simple sensory perception, the processing of music has been shown to affect multiple other regions of the brain that play a role in emotion, learning and memory.

Researchers analysed genomes of 767 people, belonging to 76 families characterised by the ability to discriminate pitch, duration and sound patterns, for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP).

The best association was found at chromosome 3 close to the GATA2 gene that regulates the development of cochlear hair cells and the inferior colliculus (IC) in the auditory pathway.

Researchers said that the best linkage results were obtained on chromosome 4, which contains five genes, PCHD7, PDGFRA, KCTD8, CHRNA9 and PHOX2B, that all affect inner-ear development and are expressed in amydala or hippocampus.

The highest probability of linkage was obtained for pitch perception accuracy next to the protocadherin 7 gene, PCDH7, known to be expressed in cochlear and amygdaloid complexes.

Amygdala is the emotional centre of the human brain and is believed to be affected by music.

The principal investigator of the study was Jaana Oikkonen in collaboration with Assistant Professor Paivi Onkamo, University of Helsinki, and Professor Veronica Vieland's group from Columbus University.

The researchers noted that musical aptitude is a complex behavioral trait not fully captured by the sound perception tests used in this study, and that environmental factors, such as culture and music education, likely play an important role here.

The study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.


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