Sex, drugs, and rock and roll chemistry in the brain

The same brain-chemical system that mediates feelings of pleasure from sex, recreational drugs, and food is also critical to experiencing musical pleasure, according to a study by McGill University researchers published today in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

"This is the first demonstration that the brain's own opioids are directly involved in musical pleasure," says cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin, senior author of the paper. While previous work by Levitin's lab and others had used neuroimaging to map areas of the brain that are active during moments of musical pleasure, scientists were able only to infer the involvement of the opioid system.

In the new study, Levitin's team at McGill selectively and temporarily blocked opioids in the brain using naltrexone, a widely prescribed drug for treating addiction disorders. The researchers then measured participants' responses to music, and found that even the participants' favorite songs no longer elicited feelings of pleasure.

"The findings, themselves, were what we hypothesized," Levitin says. "But the anecdotes - the impressions our participants shared with us after the experiment - were fascinating. One said: 'I know this is my favorite song but it doesn't feel like it usually does.' Another: 'It sounds pretty, but it's not doing anything for me.'"

Things that people enjoy - alcohol, sex, a friendly game of poker, to name a few - can also lead to addictive behaviors that can harm lives and relationships. So understanding the neurochemical roots of pleasure has been an important part of neuroscience research for decades. But scientists only recently developed the tools and methods to do such research in humans.

Still, this study proved to be "the most involved, difficult and Sisyphean task our lab has undertaken in 20 years of research," Levitin says. "Anytime you give prescription drugs to college students who don't need them for health reasons, you have to be very careful to ensure against any possible ill effects." For example, all 17 participants were required to have had a blood test within the year preceding the experiment, to ensure they didn't have any conditions that would be made worse by the drug.

Music's universality and its ability to deeply affect emotions suggest an evolutionary origin, and the new findings "add to the growing body of evidence for the evolutionary biological substrates of music," the researchers write.

This work was supported by funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Mallik A, Chanda ML, Levitin DJ.
Anhedonia to music and mu-opioids: Evidence from the administration of naltrexone.
Sci. Rep. 7, 41952; doi: 10.1038/srep41952.

Most Popular Now

New analysis shows Novartis Entresto improves glyc…

Novartis has announced results of a new post-hoc analysis in a subgroup of patients with reduced ejection fraction heart failure (HFrEF) and diabetes suggesting that Entr...

Read more

Mutual Recognition promises new framework for phar…

The United States and the European Union (EU) completed an exchange of letters to amend the Pharmaceutical Annex to the 1998 U.S.-EU Mutual Recognition Agreement. Under t...

Read more

Potential drug candidates halt prostate and breast…

Scientists on the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have designed two new drug candidates to target prostate and triple negative breast cancers. The...

Read more

Novartis' Cosentyx shows almost all psoriasis pati…

Novartis has announced a new analysis showing that moderate-to-severe psoriasis patients treated with Cosentyx® (secukinumab) rapidly regain clear or almost clear skin (P...

Read more

Scientists stimulate immune system, stop cancer gr…

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago report that increasing expression of a chemical cytokine called LIGHT in mice with colon cancer activated the immune ...

Read more

Johnson & Johnson completes acquisition of Abb…

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) has completed the acquisition of Abbott Medical Optics (AMO), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Abbott. The all-cash $4.325 billion acquisition w...

Read more

New England Journal of Medicine publishes long-ter…

In 2001 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted priority review for imatinib mesylate, sold under the name Gleevec®*, as an oral therapy for patients with chronic m...

Read more

Bristol-Myers Squibb expands focus on precision me…

Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (NYSE: BMY) announced its equity investment and plans for a research collaboration with GRAIL Inc., a life sciences company whose mission is ...

Read more

Volkswagen's excess emissions will lead to 1,200 p…

In September 2015, the German Volkswagen Group, the world's largest car producer, admitted to having installed "defeat devices" in 11 million diesel cars sold worldwide b...

Read more

MedImmune and Sanofi Pasteur form alliance to deve…

MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, and Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi, have announced an agreement to develop a...

Read more

Cooking at home tonight? It's likely cheaper and h…

Researchers from the University of Washington School of Public Health have been peeking into kitchens - via interviews - for years now. They've just published results sho...

Read more

Human antibody for Zika virus promising for treatm…

Researchers have determined the structure of a human antibody bound to the Zika virus, revealing details about how the antibody interferes with the infection mechanism - ...

Read more

Pharmaceutical Companies

[ A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Z ]