Music improves dopaminergic neurotransmission: demonstration based on the effect of music on blood pressure regulation

Sutoo D., Akiyama K.

Brain Res. 2004 Aug 6; 1016(2): 255-62

Institute of Medical Science, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8575, Japan


The mechanism by which music modifies brain function is not clear. Clinical findings indicate that music reduces blood pressure in various patients. We investigated the effect of music on blood pressure in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR). Previous studies indicated that calcium increases brain dopamine (DA) synthesis through a calmodulin (CaM)-dependent system. Increased DA levels reduce blood pressure in SHR. In this study, we examined the effects of music on this pathway. Systolic blood pressure in SHR was reduced by exposure to Mozart's music (K.205), and the effect vanished when this pathway was inhibited. Exposure to music also significantly increased serum calcium levels and neostriatal DA levels. These results suggest that music leads to increased calcium/CaM-dependent DA synthesis in the brain, thus causing a reduction in blood pressure. Music might regulate and/or affect various brain functions through dopaminergic neurotransmission, and might therefore be effective for rectification of symptoms in various diseases that involve DA dysfunction.
(Bold text emphasis by Martin Braun)


The investigation of the effects of music on the neurochemistry of otherwise well studied animals, like rats and mice, has been slow, because of widespread doubts if music could mean anything to these animals. How could such small animals possibly be interested in, or even affected by, strange acoustic games of humans? If there were an effect, it would probably be acoustical stress. Nothing could have been more wrong than this. As now reported by Sutoo and Akiyama, music for string orchestra by Mozart shifted the physiology of rats clearly towards relaxation or recreation. Systolic blood pressure decreased, and various tests indicated that this was due to an increase in serum calcium levels and brain dopamine levels. How such effects can be triggered in rats by acoustic order that is typical human remains a mystery. As had been suggested earlier, the exceptional temporal order of neural activity that music exposure causes in the auditory midbrain (inferior colliculus) may be the most promising candidate for further investigations. Perhaps the new results of Sutoo and Akiyama can lead to some more open-minded attitudes towards music effects in small animals.
(Comment Martin Braun)

The music that was played for the rats was the Adagio (3rd and slow movement) of Mozart's Divertimento in D (K205). An excerpt of it can be heard online here (piece No. 11, down on the playing list).

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