McGill University: Heartbeats to music, motivation and stress, and COVID-19 vaccines

Rhythms of music and heartbeats
When you listen to or perform music, you may notice that you move your body in time with the music. You may also synchronise to music in ways that you may not be aware of, such as your heartbeats. Scientists from McGill, led by Caroline Palmer, the Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience of Performance, investigated how musicians’ heart rhythms change when they perform familiar and unfamiliar piano melodies at different times of day. Contrary to some predictions, they found that musicians’ heart rhythms were more predictable and rigidly patterned when they performed unfamiliar melodies, and when they performed early in the morning. These findings suggest that musicians’ heart rhythms may be influenced by time of day as well as by how novel or how difficult a performance is. Ultimately, this research can inform us about how to best apply music in therapeutic settings such as in interventions that target abnormal cardiovascular patterns.

“Physiological and behavioural factors in musicians’ performance tempo” by Shannon E. Wright and Caroline Palmer was published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Stress affects our motivation to do difficult tasks
Stress increases people’s tendency to avoid cognitively demanding tasks, without necessarily altering their ability to perform those tasks according to new research from McGill University. “People are demand-averse,” says Ross Otto, an Assistant Professor of psychology at McGill. “We found that stress increases that aversion.” Study participants had to choose between repeating a single task over and over, or the more cognitively demanding process of frequently switching from one kind of task to another. They then compared the choices made by individuals under acute stress against those of a control group. “The interesting thing is – the stress effects didn’t come out in performance,” Otto explains. “So, it’s not that the study participants were worse at either the more demanding or the less demanding task – their performance was no different; it’s just that when you give them the choice of whether they want to do one or the other, stress increases their unwillingness to invest effort.”

“Acute Psychosocial Stress Increases Cognitive-Effort Avoidance” by Mario Bogdanov et al. was published in Psychological Science.

More cost-effective and accessible COVID-19 vaccines
New possibilities for producing more efficient, globally accessible, and pandemic-ready vaccines may exist thanks to the work of a McGill-led research team headed by Amine A. Kamen, Full Professor in the Department of Bioengineering. The Vero cell line is considered one of the most effective viral vaccines manufacturing platform for infectious diseases such as MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV and more recently SARS-CoV-2. Over the course of the pandemic, it has emerged as an important discovery and screening tool to support SARS-CoV-2 isolation and replication, viral vaccine production and identification of potential drug targets. However, the productivity of Vero cells has been limited by the lack of a reference genome. With restricted understanding of host–virus interactions, the full characterization of the Vero cell line has remained incomplete until now. By advanced de novo sequencing and further decoding prior published genomic data highlighting the mechanisms at play during virus growth inside the cells, the researchers believe that it may be possible to speed up the production of new vaccines against emerging and reemerging infectious diseases.

“Haplotype-resolved de novo assembly of the Vero cell line genome” by Marie-Angelique Sene et al. was published in NJP Vaccines.