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The Brain Comes Alive With the Sounds of Music

Study delves into why harmonic sounds are therapeutic for people with neurological disorders

TUESDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Call it the non-druggy drug: Music can promote memory, social behavior and communication in patients with severe brain disorders, but researchers don't understand how music works in the human brain to improve mental powers and the ability to interact with others.

Now, new research in monkeys suggests that humans' ability to perceive music may have been developed through the ability of animals to communicate with one another using vocalizations. After all, the researchers noted, the sounds of human speech have much in common with the sounds made by animals. For example, human speech and animal vocalizations contain the same kinds of tones, which are known as "complex tones."

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center studied brain activity in the auditory cortex of monkeys. They found that the brain cells known as neurons were tuned to certain frequencies and harmonic sounds.

"The understanding of neural mechanism of 'innate' music features in non-human primates will facilitate an improved understanding of music perception in the human nervous system," study co-author Yuki Kikuchi, research associate in the department of physiology and biophysics, said in a university news release. "This will allow a neurobiological framework from which to understand the basis of the effectiveness of music therapeutic interventions."

The study authors were scheduled to present their findings at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held Oct. 17 to 21 in Chicago. The study was funded by grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

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Learn about the science of music from the Exploratorium.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Georgetown University Medical Center, news release, Oct. 20, 2009

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