A genome-wide linkage and association study of musical aptitude identifies loci containing genes related to inner ear development and neurocognitive functions.
Humans have developed the perception, production and processing of sounds into the art of music. A genetic contribution to these skills of musical aptitude has long been suggested. We performed a genome-wide scan in 76 pedigrees (767 individuals) characterized for the ability to discriminate pitch (SP), duration (ST) and sound patterns (KMT), which are primary capacities for music perception. Using the Bayesian linkage and association approach implemented in program package KELVIN, especially designed for complex pedigrees, several single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) near genes affecting the functions of the auditory pathway and neurocognitive processes were identified. The strongest association was found at 3q21.3 (rs9854612) with combined SP, ST and KMT test scores (COMB). This region is located a few dozen kilobases upstream of the GATA binding protein 2 (GATA2) gene. GATA2 regulates the development of cochlear hair cells and the inferior colliculus (IC), which are important in tonotopic mapping. The highest probability of linkage was obtained for phenotype SP at 4p14, located next to the region harboring the protocadherin 7 gene, PCDH7. Two SNPs rs13146789 and rs13109270 of PCDH7 showed strong association. PCDH7 has been suggested to play a role in cochlear and amygdaloid complexes. Functional class analysis showed that inner ear and schizophrenia-related genes were enriched inside the linked regions. This study is the first to show the importance of auditory pathway genes in musical aptitude.