Music Modulates Autonomic Nervous System Activity in Human Fetuses

Author: Francesca Massimello1, Lucia Billeci2, Alessio Canu1, Maria Magdalena Montt-Guevara1, Gaia Impastato1, Maurizio Varanini2, Andrea Giannini1, Tommaso Simoncini1, Paolo Mannella1
1 Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy.
2 Institute of Clinical Physiology, National Research Council of Italy (CNR-IFC), Pisa, Italy.
Conference/Journal: Front Med (Lausanne)
Date published: 2022 Apr 14
Other: Volume ID: 9 , Pages: 857591 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3389/fmed.2022.857591. , Word Count: 305

Fetal Autonomic Nervous sysTem Evaluation (FANTE) is a non-invasive tool that evaluates the autonomic nervous system activity in a fetus. Autonomic nervous system maturation and development during prenatal life are pivotal for the survival and neuropsychiatric development of the baby.

Aim of the study is to evaluate the effect of music stimulation on fetal heart rate and specific parameters linked to ANS activity, in particular fetal heart rate variability.

Thirty-two women between the 32nd and 38th week with a singleton uncomplicated pregnancy were recruited. All FANTE data collections were acquired using a 10-derivation electrocardiograph placed on the maternal abdomen. In each session (5 min basal, 10 min with music stimulus, and 5 min post-stimulus), FANTE was registered. The music stimulus was "Clair de lune" Debussy, played through headphones on the mother's abdomen (CTR: 31927).

Music does not change the mean value of fetal heart rate. However, indices of total fetal heart rate variability statistically increase (RRsd p = 0.037, ANNsd p = 0.039, SD2 p = 0.019) during music stimulation in comparison to the basal phase. Heart rate variability increase depends mainly on the activation of parasympathetic branches (CVI p = 0.013), meanwhile, no significant changes from basal to stimulation phase were observed for indices of sympathetic activity. All the parameters of heart rate variability and parasympathetic activity remained activated in the post-stimulus phase compared to the stimulus phase. In the post-stimulus phase, sympathetic activity resulted in a significant reduction (LFn p = 0.037).

Music can influence the basal activity of the fetal autonomic nervous system, enhancing heart rate variability, without changing fetal heart rate mean value. Music is enabled to induce a relaxation state in a near-to-term fetus, mediated by parasympathetic activation and by a parallel sympathetic inhibition.

Keywords: autonomic nervous system evaluation; fetal autonomic nervous system; fetal nervous system; heart rate variability (HRV); musical stimulation; non-invasive evaluation.

PMID: 35492323 PMCID: PMC9046697 DOI: 10.3389/fmed.2022.857591