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Unravelling the genetic architecture of musical rhythm: a large-scale genome-wide association study of beat synchronization

By Maria Niarchou, Daniel E. Gustavson, J.Fah Sathirapongsasuti, Manuel Anglada-Tort, Else Eising, Eamonn Bell, Evonne McArthur, Peter Straub, The 23andMe Research Team, J.Devin McAuley, John A. Capra, Fredrik Ullen, Nicole Creanza, Miriam A. Mosing, David Hinds, Lea K Davis, Nori Jacoby, Reyna L. Gordon

Posted 09 Nov 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/836197

Moving in synchrony to a musical beat is a fundamental component of musicality. Here, we conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) to identify common genetic variants associated with beat synchronization in 606,825 individuals. Beat synchronization exhibited a highly polygenic architecture, with sixty-seven loci reaching genome-wide significance (p<5x10-8) and SNP-based heritability (on the liability scale) of 13%-16%. Heritability was enriched for genes expressed in brain tissues, and for fetal and adult brain-specific gene regulatory elements, underscoring the role of central nervous system biomarkers linked to the genetic basis of the trait. We performed validations of the self-report phenotype (through internet-based experiments) and of the GWAS (polygenic scores for beat synchronization were associated with patients algorithmically classified as musicians in medical records of a separate biobank). Genetic correlations with breathing function, motor function, processing speed, and chronotype suggest shared genetic architecture with beat synchronization and provide avenues for new phenotypic and genetic explorations.

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