Music and Medicine
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2012 4: 40 originally published online 22 July 2011Music and Medicine Abhishek Gangrade
The Effect of Music on the Production of Neurotransmitters, Hormones, Cytokines, and Peptides: A
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The Effect of Music on the Production
of Neurotransmitters, Hormones,
Cytokines, and Peptides: A Review
Abhishek Gangrade, BS
Research on the effects of music exposure on the release of biochemical messengers is an expanding field. The importance
of understanding the influence of music on messenger production is a means of explaining behavioral reactions through
physiological mechanisms. Signaling molecules that prove integral for important regulatory functions include neurotransmitters,
hormones, cytokines, and peptides. Thus music elicits responses promoting positive emotions, alleviation of stress, and immune
function. Study of the production of the messengers reveals the connection between the mind and the body. The purpose of the
review is to provide a closer look into the effectual relationship between music and production of these messengers by
providing literature and analysis.
cytokines, hormones, music medicine, neurotransmitters, peptides
Music is widely regarded as a means of enjoyment and
entertainment. However, music has also been used toward
improving the well-being of patients. While the brain inter-
prets music, successive biochemical reactions are induced
within the body. Evidence indicates that music plays a role
in activating pleasure-seeking areas of the brain that become
stimulated by food, sex, and drugs.
Most research on the biological effects of music has revolved
around studies involving brain mapping and physiological para-
meters such as heart rate and blood pressure, venturing to
explain the cognitive processes behind music appreciation, stress
relief, and manifestations of emotions. In all the reviewed stud-
ies, pathways for translation of music inception in the brain to
changes in production of signaling molecules have been
hypothesized to explain the mechanisms. Through production
of messengers such as hormones, neurotransmitters, cytokines,
and proteins, music elicits biological responses to stress, emo-
tion, and immune function.
The messengers within the body range from simple to
complex molecules that provide functions crucial to survival.
Hormones certainly prove necessary for proper physiological
growth and development. Neurotransmitters are messengers
that regulate the activation or inhibition of neurons. Cytokines
are imperative toward maintenance of immune function and
growth. Proteins, such as antibodies, have many diverse roles
ranging from cell composition to tissue integrity.
The cited literature state the case for music as a stimulator or
inhibitor of messenger pathways in the body. To the author’s
knowledge, no review or summary on the effect of music on
production of all 4 aforementioned messengers has been
attempted thus far. I will first incorporate important findings
relating music to messenger production. I follow with a presen-
tation of the remaining objectives to be accomplished in this
field of research.
Music represents a noninvasive approach as opposed to
treatments such as hormone or cytokine therapies and medica-
tions. Further research on the effects of music may reveal the
precise functions of biochemical messengers. Today, an
emphasishasbeenplacedonpharmacological substances to
serveasremediesforpainorhyperactivity when music pro-
vides the simplest solution as an easily accessible form with-
out any known debilitating effects. For example, nicotine in
cigarettes stimulates production of dopamine, a neurotrans-
mitter involved in providing pleasure.
Music also has similar
effects on the dopaminergic pathway.
As a result, music
may pose as an effective substitute for other supplements to
help addicts quit smoking.
Music characterized by genres and musical elements evoke
distinct patterns of messenger production. Music of Johann
Strauss caused rises in atrial filling fraction and atrial natriure-
tic peptide and falls in cortisol and tissue-type plasminogen
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA
Abhishek Gangrade, University of Florida, 536 Serenity Place, Lake Mary, FL
Music and Medicine
ªThe Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission:
activator (t-PA). Prolactin, cortisol, noradrenaline, and t-PA
concentrations decreased after listening to the music of H.
W. Henze. Ravi Shankar’s music resulted in lowered concen-
trations of cortisol, noradrenaline, and t-PA.
techno music was found to alter levels of b-endorphin, adreno-
corticotropic hormone (ACTH), norepinephrine, growth
hormone, prolactin, and cortisol in healthy people.
cally ill patients who listened to Mozart’s slow piano sonatas
had increased growth hormone and decreased interleukin (IL)
Appreciation of a mixed selection of rock music
increased salivary immunoglobulin A (IgA).
of major and minor modes
and intensity of music
cortisol production have also been studied.
Different methods of measuring the concentrations were
implemented. Almost all the studies mentioned involve blood
drawn from the participants and tested for cytokines, Igs, hor-
mones, and neurotransmitters by immunoassays, such as
radioimmunossays and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays
(ELISA) to determine the concentrations. Dopamine levels
were measured by observing fluorescence intensities with a
High-pressure liquid chromatogra-
phy (HPLC) was used to measure norepinephrine and
In some studies, participants were administered music to
assess the possible relationship of perception and levels of par-
ticular messengers. Platelet serotonin is lower in participants
exposed to unpleasant music than those who listened to plea-
Cortisol, IL-1b, and IL-10 levels did not change
in those listening to preferred music but changed in those
exposed to relaxing music.
Both morphine and IL-6
decreased in patients exposed to preferred music, leading to
lower blood pressure.
The clinical area has displayed promising effects of music in
battling specific conditions. Music decreases plasma concentra-
tions of cortisol, epinephrine, and t-PA in patients exposed to
Music also is known to aid in fighting
cerebrovascular disease by activation of parasympathetic nervous
system, lowering concentrations of IL-6, tumor necrosis factor
(TNF), adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
mone, cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline also have been
measured before and after gastroscopy.
production has been found influential in providing a calming
effect in elderly patients with Alzheimer dementia.
Music has proven effective in improving the immune
function. Decreased corticosteroid production correlates with
the effect of music on immunity.
Rises in concentrations of
are associated with falls in sali-
vary and plasma cortisol levels, respectively. In regard to coun-
tering the harmful effects of stress on immunity, music has
even proven to be as helpful as pharmacological treatments,
such as benzodiazepines and 5 hydroxytryptamine (HT) ago-
nists. There is also evidence that music may lead to production
of hormones and neurotransmitters that participate in T cell
proliferation and antitumor signaling.
Explanations for certain phenomena, such as learning, have
become possible with knowledge of the effect of music on the
production of messengers. For example, music influences
production of steroids including cortisol, testosterone, and
estrogen as well as their receptor proteins, leading to neurogen-
esis and improvements in learning in the brain.
regulate the production of neurotrophins in the hypothalamus,
causing reduction in stress and improved learning as well.
Not all studies concerned have produced results indicating
correlations between psychological and physiological out-
comes. Although patients felt less anxious after listening to
music, they revealed no differences in concentrations of no-
repinephrine, epinephrine, cortisol, or ACTH.
have been found to conflict with each other. Music therapy
increased adrenaline in one study
but decreased adrenaline
a result of the fact that music therapy protocols
vary from one administrator to another.
Further research is needed to explain with more specificity
the relationship between the psychological and physiological
manifestations of music. It has long been considered that phy-
siology affects psychology in a unidirectional manner. However,
some evidence indicates otherwise as oxytocin production is
increased by listening to music. Thus, psychological mechan-
isms influence physiological processes. More studies are needed
to clarify such cause and effect relationships.
Most studies simply observed the direct involvement of
music on messenger production by allowing participants to lis-
ten to music before measuring changes in concentrations. How-
ever, some studies combined both music and treatment with a
substance in order to examine the effect of the substance which
was either accentuated or reversed by music or vice versa.
For example, thrills in listeners are intensified by the opiate
receptor antagonist, naloxone hydrochloride. The thrills of
music could thus be linked to endogenous opioids.
other studies state that music decreases stress-induced hor-
mones, such as b-endorphin and ACTH.
It is important
to note the areas sampled for the messengers. Goldstein
sured central opioid activity as opposed to Halpaap et al
measured peripheral concentrations of b-endorphin.
While the studies exhibit promise toward the effects of
music on messenger production for developing improved med-
ical care, certain issues remain for further consideration. Most
experiments have focused attention on particular types of
music and have included neither large sample sizes nor wide
ranges of musical diversity as variables. Thus far, studies have
selected musical pieces for participants based on certain musi-
cal elements such as rhythm, tempo, and tonality but must not
ignore basic qualifications such as instrumental versus vocal
melodies and ethnic diversities.
Few studies were found to have compared profiles of mes-
senger production of musically educated and untrained parti-
cipants. Active participation in producing music increased
natural killer (NK) cell activity and changed gene expres-
sions for interferon-gand IL-10.
However, the participants
were merely motivated by a trained mentor to play percussion
instruments rather than to perform independently with musi-
cal knowledge. Musical ability has been found to influence
the production of hormones.
Musical talent and simply
listening to music have been compared with respect to
production of IgA and cortisol.
Exploring the exact functions of cytokines, neurotrans-
mitters, hormones, peptides, and other messengers requires
further research. While exposure to music may reveal such
functions through trends in messenger production, they are
not by any means causative. Complexity is apparent when dis-
cussing the aggregative effects of the messengers. A trend in
the production of a particular messenger may be offset or
amplified by the potency of another messenger. Thus, path-
ways of messenger production prove crucial to understanding
the connections between the mind and the body. One study
has shown that music may balance messenger levels by
increasing and decreasing steroids in those with low and high
hormone levels, respectively.
Further research on the link
between messenger outputs and physiological homeostasis
remains to be determined.
Learning about specific messenger changes as a result of lis-
tening to and processing music proves promising toward eluci-
dating therapeutic benefits. This article seeks to place emphasis
on a field believed to have real biological implications that may
become even more relevant in the clinical realm in the future.
Neurotransmitters, hormones, cytokines, and peptides provide
a more quantitative means of comparison for music studies.
They represent the direct link between music interpretation and
physiological reactions. Further research may encourage devel-
opment of better pharmacological drugs to combat problems
with lesser side effects or to pave the way for newer treatments.
All the literature reviewed for the effects of music on biochem-
ical messenger responses do not contain recordings or any other
type of specific musical content. The titles and composers of
the music were provided in the articles as they can be readily
accessed through the Internet. Thus, the relationships between
the specific types of music and their effects on the levels of bio-
chemical messengers serve as a foundation for further under-
standing the role of music in physiological mechanisms.
The author sincerely appreciates the guidance of Dr Miriam Zach
while writing this article.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
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Abhishek Gangrade, BS, received his bachelor of science degree in
biology at the University of Florida.