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Elvis And His Music May Help Decode Williams Syndrome

Music, apart from being a very strong word, is a phenomenon that invokes myriad responses from people from all walks of life. Most pronounced of these responses are the emotional stirrings one experiences when listening to a favorite piece of music or song. Scientists led by researchers from the University of Utah did just that, they used music to check for emotional responses in people with a rare congenital disorder-Williams syndrome.

The U.S National Library of Medicine describes Williams syndrome(WS) as a rare genetic disorder affecting one in every 8,000 births. People living with WS show an implicit affinity to strangers and most importantly an explicit interest in music. This rare disorder is the result of the absence of over 25 genes. The major complication WS patients experience is the absence of the gene that produces elastin. The protein elastin plays a major role in the elongation of the blood vessels and the lack of it results in narrow blood vessels and inconsistent blood flow through the body.

The study gathered a total of 21 individuals ,13 with WS and 8 without WS- who were used as control. The study protocol involved measuring the individuals' blood samples before, after and during when the songs were played. Interestingly the song chosen for the first participant was the 1950's super-hit 'Love me tender' by Elvis Presley. Later, the participants were asked to listen to their personal favorites under all genres of music.

The results revealed an interesting facet, hormones like arginine vasopressin, or AVP, and oxytocin that are responsible for eliciting emotional responses in humans, were present upto three times higher in people with WS when compared to people without WS. The two hormones showed abnormal peaks and low levels in people with WS when they listened to their favorite songs. The hormones bounce was attributable to poor hormone regulatory mechanisms in people with WS. Interestingly, the oxytocin level in the participant who had listened to "Love Me Tender" was the highest compared to the other participants who listened to different music.

As part of validating their earlier findings,a negative stress test was also applied on all, participants were asked to place their hands in 60-degree Fahrenheit water and again the people with WS showed an increase in the two hormones oxytocin and AVP, whereas the people without WS showed no detectable hormone change.

The finding is a definite add to the existing findings that circulate around Williams syndrome. The findings also validate the fact that the missing genes are responsible for this hormonal debacle and elucidates the roles these hormones play in the functioning of the hypothalamus and the pituitary.

The findings were published online on June 12, 2012 in the peer reviewed journal PLoS One.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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