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OBJECTIVE: The underlying changes in biological processes that are associated with reported changes in mental and physical health in response to meditation have not been systematically explored. We performed a randomized, controlled study on the effects on brain and immune function of a well-known and widely used 8-week clinical training program in mindfulness meditation applied in a work environment with healthy employees. METHODS: We measured brain electrical activity before and immediately after, and then 4 months after an 8-week training program in mindfulness meditation. Twenty-five subjects were tested in the meditation group. A wait-list control group (N = 16) was tested at the same points in time as the meditators. At the end of the 8-week period, subjects in both groups were vaccinated with influenza vaccine. RESULTS: We report for the first time significant increases in left-sided anterior activation, a pattern previously associated with positive affect, in the meditators compared with the nonmeditators. We also found significant increases in antibody titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation compared with those in the wait-list control group. Finally, the magnitude of increase in left-sided activation predicted the magnitude of antibody titer rise to the vaccine. CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate that a short program in mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable effects on brain and immune function. These findings suggest that meditation may change brain and immune function in positive ways and underscore the need for additional research.
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Anxious temperament (AT) in human and non-human primates is a trait-like phenotype evident early in life that is characterized by increased behavioural and physiological reactivity to mildly threatening stimuli. Studies in children demonstrate that AT is an important risk factor for the later development of anxiety disorders, depression and comorbid substance abuse. Despite its importance as an early predictor of psychopathology, little is known about the factors that predispose vulnerable children to develop AT and the brain systems that underlie its expression. To characterize the neural circuitry associated with AT and the extent to which the function of this circuit is heritable, we studied a large sample of rhesus monkeys phenotyped for AT. Using 238 young monkeys from a multigenerational single-family pedigree, we simultaneously assessed brain metabolic activity and AT while monkeys were exposed to the relevant ethological condition that elicits the phenotype. High-resolution (18)F-labelled deoxyglucose positron-emission tomography (FDG-PET) was selected as the imaging modality because it provides semi-quantitative indices of absolute glucose metabolic rate, allows for simultaneous measurement of behaviour and brain activity, and has a time course suited for assessing temperament-associated sustained brain responses. Here we demonstrate that the central nucleus region of the amygdala and the anterior hippocampus are key components of the neural circuit predictive of AT. We also show significant heritability of the AT phenotype by using quantitative genetic analysis. Additionally, using voxelwise analyses, we reveal significant heritability of metabolic activity in AT-associated hippocampal regions. However, activity in the amygdala region predictive of AT is not significantly heritable. Furthermore, the heritabilities of the hippocampal and amygdala regions significantly differ from each other. Even though these structures are closely linked, the results suggest differential influences of genes and environment on how these brain regions mediate AT and the ongoing risk of developing anxiety and depression.
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OBJECTIVE: The anticipation of adverse outcomes, or worry, is a cardinal symptom of generalized anxiety disorder. Prior work with healthy subjects has shown that anticipating aversive events recruits a network of brain regions, including the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex. This study tested whether patients with generalized anxiety disorder have alterations in anticipatory amygdala function and whether anticipatory activity in the anterior cingulate cortex predicts treatment response. METHOD: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was employed with 14 generalized anxiety disorder patients and 12 healthy comparison subjects matched for age, sex, and education. The event-related fMRI paradigm was composed of one warning cue that preceded aversive pictures and a second cue that preceded neutral pictures. Following the fMRI session, patients received 8 weeks of treatment with extended-release venlafaxine. RESULTS: Patients with generalized anxiety disorder showed greater anticipatory activity than healthy comparison subjects in the bilateral dorsal amygdala preceding both aversive and neutral pictures. Building on prior reports of pretreatment anterior cingulate cortex activity predicting treatment response, anticipatory activity in that area was associated with clinical outcome 8 weeks later following treatment with venlafaxine. Higher levels of pretreatment anterior cingulate cortex activity in anticipation of both aversive and neutral pictures were associated with greater reductions in anxiety and worry symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: These findings of heightened and indiscriminate amygdala responses to anticipatory signals in generalized anxiety disorder and of anterior cingulate cortex associations with treatment response provide neurobiological support for the role of anticipatory processes in the pathophysiology of generalized anxiety disorder.
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This article reviews the modern literature on two key aspects of the central circuitry of emotion: the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the amygdala. There are several different functional divisions of the PFC, including the dorsolateral, ventromedial, and orbital sectors. Each of these regions plays some role in affective processing that shares the feature of representing affect in the absence of immediate rewards and punishments as well as in different aspects of emotional regulation. The amygdala appears to be crucial for the learning of new stimulus-threat contingencies and also appears to be important in the expression of cue-specific fear. Individual differences in both tonic activation and phasic reactivity in this circuit play an important role in governing different aspects of anxiety. Emphasis is placed on affective chronometry, or the time course of emotional responding, as a key attribute of individual differences in propensity for anxiety that is regulated by this circuitry.
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On the basis of a review of the extant literature describing emotion-cognition interactions, the authors propose 4 methodological desiderata for studying how task-irrelevant affect modulates cognition and present data from an experiment satisfying them. Consistent with accounts of the hemispheric asymmetries characterizing withdrawal-related negative affect and visuospatial working memory (WM) in prefrontal and parietal cortices, threat-induced anxiety selectively disrupted accuracy of spatial but not verbal WM performance. Furthermore, individual differences in physiological measures of anxiety statistically mediated the degree of disruption. A second experiment revealed that individuals characterized by high levels of behavioral inhibition exhibited more intense anxiety and relatively worse spatial WM performance in the absence of threat, solidifying the authors' inference that anxiety causally mediates disruption. These observations suggest a revision of extant models of how anxiety sculpts cognition and underscore the utility of the desiderata.
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BACKGROUND: The frontal lobe has been crucially involved in the neurobiology of major depression, but inconsistencies among studies exist, in part due to a failure of considering modulatory variables such as symptom severity, comorbidity with anxiety, and distinct subtypes, as codeterminants for patterns of brain activation in depression. METHODS: Resting electroencephalogram was recorded in 38 unmedicated subjects with major depressive disorder and 18 normal comparison subjects, and analyzed with a tomographic source localization method that computes the cortical three-dimensional distribution of current density for standard electroencephalogram frequency bands. Symptom severity and anxiety were measured via self-report and melancholic features via clinical interview. RESULTS: Depressed subjects showed more excitatory (beta3, 21.5-30.0 Hz) activity in the right superior and inferior frontal lobe (Brodmann's area 9/10/11) than comparison subjects. In melancholic subjects, this effect was particularly pronounced for severe depression, and right frontal activity correlated positively with anxiety. Depressed subjects showed posterior cingulate and precuneus hypoactivity. CONCLUSIONS: While confirming prior results implicating right frontal and posterior cingulate regions, this study highlights the importance of depression severity, anxiety, and melancholic features in patterns of brain activity accompanying depression.
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Children with anxious temperament (AT) are particularly sensitive to new social experiences and have increased risk for developing anxiety and depression. The young rhesus monkey is optimal for studying the origin of human AT because it shares with humans the genetic, neural, and phenotypic underpinnings of complex social and emotional functioning. In vivo imaging in young monkeys demonstrated that central nucleus of the amygdala (Ce) metabolism is relatively stable across development and predicts AT. Transcriptome-wide gene expression, which reflects combined genetic and environmental influences, was assessed within the Ce. Results support a maladaptive neurodevelopmental hypothesis linking decreased amygdala neuroplasticity to early-life dispositional anxiety. For example, high AT individuals had decreased mRNA expression of neurotrophic tyrosine kinase, receptor, type 3 (NTRK3). Moreover, variation in Ce NTRK3 expression was inversely correlated with Ce metabolism and other AT-substrates. These data suggest that altered amygdala neuroplasticity may play a role the early dispositional risk to develop anxiety and depression.
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Compared to the general population, youth in foster care experience multiple psychosocial difficulties due to exceptionally high rates of maltreatment. Many youth in care receive psychological and/or psychotropic treatment but not all require or are willing to accept that level of intervention. For many, a “mental health” approach feels pathologizing. Nevertheless, these youth have suffered maltreatment and interventions to improve their ability to cope with past trauma and their often uncertain present are clearly needed. Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) provides an alternative perspective on suffering and can be framed as a wellness intervention that is appropriate for all humans. The present study examined whether a 6-week CBCT intervention would improve psychosocial functioning among adolescents in foster care. Seventy adolescents were randomized to CBCT (twice weekly) or a wait-list condition. Youth were assessed at baseline and after 6 weeks. Groups did not differ on measures of psychosocial functioning following training; however practice frequency was associated with increased hopefulness and a trend for a decrease in generalized anxiety. Qualitative results indicated that participants found CBCT useful for dealing with daily life stressors. Adolescents in care were willing to engage in CBCT. The majority reported CBCT was very helpful and almost all reported they would recommend CBCT to a friend. Participants reported specific instances of using CBCT strategies to regulate emotion, manage stress, or to respond more compassionately towards others. Standardized self-report measures were not sensitive to qualitative reports of improved functioning, suggesting the need for measures more sensitive to the positive changes noted or longer training periods to demonstrate effects. Practical issues surrounding implementation of such programs in high-risk youth populations are identified. Recommendations are provided for further development.
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The authors examined the time course of affective responding associated with different affective dimensions--anxious apprehension, anxious arousal, and anhedonic depression--using an emotion-modulated startle paradigm. Participants high on 1 of these 3 dimensions and nonsymptomatic control participants viewed a series of affective pictures with acoustic startle probes presented before, during, and after the stimuli. All groups exhibited startle potentiation during unpleasant pictures and in anticipation of both pleasant and unpleasant pictures. Compared with control participants, symptomatic participants exhibited sustained potentiation following the offset of unpleasant stimuli and a lack of blink attenuation during and following pleasant stimuli. Common and unique patterns of affective responses in the 3 types of mood symptoms are discussed.
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The effects of Zen breath meditation were compared with those of relaxation on college adjustment. 75 undergraduates (aged 17–40 yrs) were divided into 3 groups using randomized matching on the basis of initial anxiety scores of the College Adjustment Scales. Ss also completed the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale. The 3 groups included, meditation, relaxation, and control. Training for the meditation and relaxation groups took place during a 1-hr instructional session with written instructions being distributed. After 6 wks anxiety and depression scored significantly decreased for the meditation and relaxation groups. Interpersonal problem scores also significantly decreased for the meditation group.

The corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) system integrates the stress response and is associated with stress-related psychopathology. Previous reports have identified interactions between childhood trauma and sequence variation in the CRH receptor 1 gene (CRHR1) that increase risk for affective disorders. However, the underlying mechanisms that connect variation in CRHR1 to psychopathology are unknown. To explore potential mechanisms, we used a validated rhesus macaque model to investigate association between genetic variation in CRHR1, anxious temperament (AT) and brain metabolic activity. In young rhesus monkeys, AT is analogous to the childhood risk phenotype that predicts the development of human anxiety and depressive disorders. Regional brain metabolism was assessed with (18)F-labeled fluoro-2-deoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography in 236 young, normally reared macaques that were also characterized for AT. We show that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) affecting exon 6 of CRHR1 influence both AT and metabolic activity in the anterior hippocampus and amygdala, components of the neural circuit underlying AT. We also find evidence for association between SNPs in CRHR1 and metabolism in the intraparietal sulcus and precuneus. These translational data suggest that genetic variation in CRHR1 affects the risk for affective disorders by influencing the function of the neural circuit underlying AT and that differences in gene expression or the protein sequence involving exon 6 may be important. These results suggest that variation in CRHR1 may influence brain function before any childhood adversity and may be a diathesis for the interaction between CRHR1 genotypes and childhood trauma reported to affect human psychopathology.
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Cyclic AMP (cAMP) is a second messenger involved in many processes including mnemonic processing and anxiety. Memory deficits and anxiety are noted in the phenotype of fragile X (FX), the most common heritable cause of mental retardation and autism. Here we review reported observations of altered cAMP cascade function in FX and autism. Cyclic AMP is a potentially useful biochemical marker to distinguish autism comorbid with FX from autism per se and the cAMP cascade may be a viable therapeutic target for both FX and autism.
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Early life stress (ELS) and function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis predict later psychopathology. Animal studies and cross-sectional human studies suggest that this process might operate through amygdala-ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) circuitry implicated in the regulation of emotion. Here we prospectively investigated the roles of ELS and childhood basal cortisol amounts in the development of adolescent resting-state functional connectivity (rs-FC), assessed by functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI), in the amygdala-PFC circuit. In females only, greater ELS predicted increased childhood cortisol levels, which predicted decreased amygdala-vmPFC rs-FC 14 years later. For females, adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity was inversely correlated with concurrent anxiety symptoms but positively associated with depressive symptoms, suggesting differing pathways from childhood cortisol levels function through adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity to anxiety and depression. These data highlight that, for females, the effects of ELS and early HPA-axis function may be detected much later in the intrinsic processing of emotion-related brain circuits.
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OBJECTIVE: This study was designed to determine the effectiveness of a group stress reduction program based on mindfulness meditation for patients with anxiety disorders. METHOD: The 22 study participants were screened with a structured clinical interview and found to meet the DSM-III-R criteria for generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder with or without agoraphobia. Assessments, including self-ratings and therapists' ratings, were obtained weekly before and during the meditation-based stress reduction and relaxation program and monthly during the 3-month follow-up period. RESULTS: Repeated measures analyses of variance documented significant reductions in anxiety and depression scores after treatment for 20 of the subjects--changes that were maintained at follow-up. The number of subjects experiencing panic symptoms was also substantially reduced. A comparison of the study subjects with a group of nonstudy participants in the program who met the initial screening criteria for entry into the study showed that both groups achieved similar reductions in anxiety scores on the SCL-90-R and on the Medical Symptom Checklist, suggesting generalizability of the study findings. CONCLUSIONS: A group mindfulness meditation training program can effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety and panic and can help maintain these reductions in patients with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or panic disorder with agoraphobia.
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Losses in relationships, work, and other areas of life often accompany the physical discomfort of chronic pain. Often the depth and intensity of the grief associated with chronic pain are overlooked or possibly misdiagnosed and treated as depression. We used an 8-week mindfulness meditation program to determine its effectiveness in addressing the grieving process among 39 patients diagnosed with chronic pain. Eighteen patients volunteered to be in a comparison group. The study was conducted in a regional hospital's pain clinic and patients completed the Response to Loss Scale (measuring grief), the Beck Depression Inventory, and the State Trait Anxiety Inventory. Results indicated that the treatment group advanced significantly more quickly through the initial stages of grieving than the comparison group. In addition, the treatment group demonstrated significant reductions in depression and state anxiety, but no significant differences emerged when comparing groups on the final stages of grieving or trait anxiety.

Stress and negative mood during pregnancy increase risk for poor childbirth outcomes and postnatal mood problems and may interfere with mother–infant attachment and child development. However, relatively little research has focused on the efficacy of psychosocial interventions to reduce stress and negative mood during pregnancy. In this study, we developed and pilot tested an eight-week mindfulness-based intervention directed toward reducing stress and improving mood in pregnancy and early postpartum. We then conducted a small randomized trial ( n = 31) comparing women who received the intervention during the last half of their pregnancy to a wait-list control group. Measures of perceived stress, positive and negative affect, depressed and anxious mood, and affect regulation were collected prior to, immediately following, and three months after the intervention (postpartum). Mothers who received the intervention showed significantly reduced anxiety (effect size, 0.89; p < 0.05) and negative affect (effect size, 0.83; p < 0.05) during the third trimester in comparison to those who did not receive the intervention. The brief and nonpharmaceutical nature of this intervention makes it a promising candidate for use during pregnancy.

The inability to cope successfully with the enormous stress of medical education may lead to a cascade of consequences at both a personal and professional level. The present study examined the short-term effects of an 8-week meditation-based stress reduction intervention on premedical and medical students using a well-controlled statistical design. Findings indicate that participation in the intervention can effectively (1) reduce self-reported state and trait anxiety, (2) reduce reports of overall psychological distress including depression, (3) increase scores on overall empathy levels, and (4) increase scores on a measure of spiritual experiences assessed at termination of intervention. These results (5) replicated in the wait-list control group, (6) held across different experiments, and (7) were observed during the exam period. Future research should address potential long-term effects of mindfulness training for medical and premedical students.

We recently reported the presence of reliable asymmetries in frontal-brain electrical activity in infants that distinguished between certain positive- and negative-affect elicitors. In order to explore the degree to which these asymmetries in brain activity are associated with individual differences in affective response, 35 ten-month-old female infants were presented with a stranger-approach, mother-approach, and maternal-separation experience while an electroencephalogram (EEG) from the left- and right-frontal and left- and right-parietal scalp regions was recorded and facial and other behavioral responses were videotaped. Changes in frontal-EEG asymmetry reflected behavioral changes between conditions. In addition, individual differences in affective response to separation were related to differences in frontal-brain asymmetries. These findings indicate that lawful changes exist in asymmetries of frontal-brain activation during the expression of certain emotions in the first year of life and that individual differences in emotional responsivity are related to these measures of brain activity.
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The goal of this study was to evaluate potential mental health benefits of yoga for adolescents in secondary school. Students were randomly assigned to either regular physical education classes or to 11 weeks of yoga sessions based upon the Yoga Ed program over a single semester. Students completed baseline and end-program self-report measures of mood, anxiety, perceived stress, resilience, and other mental health variables. Independent evaluation of individual outcome measures revealed that yoga participants showed statistically significant differences over time relative to controls on measures of anger control and fatigue/inertia. Most outcome measures exhibited a pattern of worsening in the control group over time, whereas changes in the yoga group over time were either minimal or showed slight improvements. These preliminary results suggest that implementation of yoga is acceptable and feasible in a secondary school setting and has the potential of playing a protective or preventive role in maintaining mental health.
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Abstract The authors examined the effect of a 6-week mind/body intervention on college students' psychological distress, anxiety, and perception of stress. One hundred twenty-eight students were randomly assigned to an experimental group (n = 63) or a waitlist control group (n = 65). The experimental group received 6 90-minute group-training sessions in the relaxation response and cognitive behavioral skills. The Symptom Checklist-90-Revised, Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Perceived Stress Scale were used to assess the students' psychological state before and after the intervention. Ninety students (70% of the initial sample) completed the postassessment measure. Significantly greater reductions in psychological distress, state anxiety, and perceived stress were found in the experimental group. This brief mind/body training may be useful as a preventive intervention for college students, according to the authors, who called for further research to determine whether the observed treatment effect can be sustained over a longer period of time.

Neuroanatomists posit that the central nucleus of the amygdala (Ce) and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST) comprise two major nodes of a macrostructural forebrain entity termed the extended amygdala. The extended amygdala is thought to play a critical role in adaptive motivational behavior and is implicated in the pathophysiology of maladaptive fear and anxiety. Resting functional connectivity of the Ce was examined in 107 young anesthetized rhesus monkeys and 105 young humans using standard resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) methods to assess temporal correlations across the brain. The data expand the neuroanatomical concept of the extended amygdala by finding, in both species, highly significant functional coupling between the Ce and the BST. These results support the use of in vivo functional imaging methods in nonhuman and human primates to probe the functional anatomy of major brain networks such as the extended amygdala.
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Attention to internal bodily sensations is a core feature of mindfulness meditation. Previous studies have not detected differences in interoceptive accuracy between meditators and nonmeditators on heartbeat detection and perception tasks. We compared differences in respiratory interoceptive accuracy between meditators and nonmeditators in the ability to detect and discriminate respiratory resistive loads and sustain accurate perception of respiratory tidal volume during nondistracted and distracted conditions. Groups did not differ in overall performance on the detection and discrimination tasks; however, meditators were more accurate in discriminating the resistive load with the lowest ceiling effect. Meditators were also more accurate during the nondistracted tracking task at a lag time of 1 s following the breath. Results provide initial support for the notion that meditators have greater respiratory interoceptive accuracy compared to nonmeditators.
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The relation between brain activity and the immune system was evaluated by assessing immune responses in 20 healthy women who manifested extreme differences in the asymmetry of frontal cortex activation. One group showed extreme and stable left frontal activation; the other group showed extreme and stable right frontal activation. As predicted, women with extreme right frontal activation had significantly lower levels of natural killer cell activity (at effector:target cell ratios of 33:1 and 11:1) than did left frontally activated individuals. This difference did not extend to two other immune measures, lymphocyte proliferation and T-cell subsets. However, higher immunoglobulin levels of the M class were observed in the right frontal group. In this study, the immune patterns could not be accounted for by plasma cortisol levels, anxiety- and depression-related symptomatology, or recent health histories. These findings support the hypothesis that there is a specific association between frontal brain asymmetry and certain immune responses.
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