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BACKGROUND: Autism is a syndrome of unknown cause, marked by abnormal development of social behavior. Attempts to link pathological features of the amygdala, which plays a key role in emotional processing, to autism have shown little consensus. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate amygdala volume in individuals with autism spectrum disorders and its relationship to laboratory measures of social behavior to examine whether variations in amygdala structure relate to symptom severity. DESIGN: We conducted 2 cross-sectional studies of amygdala volume, measured blind to diagnosis on high-resolution, anatomical magnetic resonance images. Participants were 54 males aged 8 to 25 years, including 23 with autism and 5 with Asperger syndrome or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, recruited and evaluated at an academic center for developmental disabilities and 26 age- and sex-matched community volunteers. The Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised was used to confirm diagnoses and to validate relationships with laboratory measures of social function. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Amygdala volume, judgment of facial expressions, and eye tracking. RESULTS: In study 1, individuals with autism who had small amygdalae were slowest to distinguish emotional from neutral expressions (P=.02) and showed least fixation of eye regions (P=.04). These same individuals were most socially impaired in early childhood, as reported on the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (P<.04). Study 2 showed smaller amygdalae in individuals with autism than in control subjects (P=.03) and group differences in the relation between amygdala volume and age. Study 2 also replicated findings of more gaze avoidance and childhood impairment in participants with autism with the smallest amygdalae. Across the combined sample, severity of social deficits interacted with age to predict different patterns of amygdala development in autism (P=.047). CONCLUSIONS: These findings best support a model of amygdala hyperactivity that could explain most volumetric findings in autism. Further psychophysiological and histopathological studies are indicated to confirm these findings.
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The brain and the cardiovascular system influence each other during the processing of emotion. The study of the interactions of these systems during emotion regulation has been limited in human functional neuroimaging, despite its potential importance for physical health. We have previously reported that mental expertise in cultivation of compassion alters the activation of circuits linked with empathy and theory of mind in response to emotional stimuli. Guided by the finding that heart rate increases more during blocks of compassion meditation than neutral states, especially for experts, we examined the interaction between state (compassion vs. neutral) and group (novice, expert) on the relation between heart rate and BOLD signal during presentation of emotional sounds presented during each state. Our findings revealed that BOLD signal in the right middle insula showed a significant association with heart rate (HR) across state and group. This association was stronger in the left middle/posterior insula when experts were compared to novices. The positive coupling of HR and BOLD was higher within the compassion state than within the neutral state in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex for both groups, underlining the role of this region in the modulation of bodily arousal states. This state effect was stronger for experts than novices in somatosensory cortices and the right inferior parietal lobule (group by state interaction). These data confirm that compassion enhances the emotional and somatosensory brain representations of others' emotions, and that this effect is modulated by expertise. Future studies are needed to further investigate the impact of compassion training on these circuits.
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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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Despite the call for multilevel observation of negative affect, including multiple physiological systems, too little empirical research has been conducted in infants and young children, and physiology-affect associations are not consistently reported. We examined changes in heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and preejection period in 24-month-olds across four increasingly challenging, emotion-eliciting tasks. We predicted that changes in cardiac reactivity would be systematically related to changes in negative affect. Results largely support the predictions with one important exception. With increasing distress across the tasks, HR increased and RSA decreased. However, no significant changes in PEP were observed. HR was associated with negative affect during all tasks, and changes in HR were related to changes in negative affect. PEP and negative affect were associated, but only marginally so. Within-subject analyses confirmed the predicted associations. Finally, the associations between physiology and negative affect were different for boys and girls. We discuss these results in the context of implications for future research on cardiac-affect associations in young children.
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This study aims at investigating changes in heart rate variability (HRV) measured during meditation. The statistical and spectral measures of HRV from the RR intervals were analyzed. Results indicate that meditation may have different effects on health depending on frequency of the resonant peak that each meditator can achieve. The possible effects may concern resetting baroreflex sensitivity, increasing the parasympathetic tone, and improving efficiency of gas exchange in the lung.
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Previous research indicates that lower-class individuals experience elevated negative emotions as compared with their upper-class counterparts. We examine how the environments of lower-class individuals can also promote greater compassionate responding-that is, concern for the suffering or well-being of others. In the present research, we investigate class-based differences in dispositional compassion and its activation in situations wherein others are suffering. Across studies, relative to their upper-class counterparts, lower-class individuals reported elevated dispositional compassion (Study 1), as well as greater self-reported compassion during a compassion-inducing video (Study 2) and for another person during a social interaction (Study 3). Lower-class individuals also exhibited heart rate deceleration-a physiological response associated with orienting to the social environment and engaging with others-during the compassion-inducing video (Study 2). We discuss a potential mechanism of class-based influences on compassion, whereby lower-class individuals' are more attuned to others' distress, relative to their upper-class counterparts.
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The heart rate, breathing rate, and skin resistance were recorded for 20 community home girls (Home group) and for 20 age-matched girls from a regular school (School group). The former group had a significantly higher rate of breathing and a more irregular breath pattern known to correlate with high fear and anxiety, than the School group. Skin resistance was significantly lower in the School group, which may suggest greater arousal, 28 girls of the Home group formed 14 pairs, matched for age and duration of stay in the home. Subjects of a pair were randomly assigned to either yoga or games groups. For the former emphasis was on relaxation and awareness, whereas for the latter increasing physical activity was emphasized. At the end of an hour daily for six months both groups showed a significant decrease in the resting heart rate relative to initial values (Wilcoxon paired-sample rest), and the yoga group showed a significant decrease in breath rate, which appeared more regular but no significant increase in the skin resistance. These results suggest that a yoga program which includes relaxation, awareness, and graded physical activity is a useful addition to the routine of community home children.
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The putative association between fear-related behaviors and peripheral sympathetic and neuroendocrine reactivity has not been replicated consistently. This inconsistency was addressed in a reexamination of the characterization of children with extreme fearful reactions by focusing on the match between distress behaviors and the eliciting context. Eighty 24-month-old children were observed in 4 mildly threatening contexts, and the relations among different measures of fear-related behaviors, reactive and basal cortisol levels, and baseline cardiac measures of heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and preejection period (PEP) were examined. The hypothesis that only behaviors under the less threatening context would be associated with higher cortisol and sympathetic cardiac activity was confirmed; only task-specific freezing behavior predicted higher reactive and basal cortisol levels and resting PEP measured 1 week later. Implications for the conceptualization of dysregulated fear behaviors in the classification of extremely fearful children are discussed.
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Many investigators have hypothesized that brain response to cortisol is altered in depression. However, neural activation in response to exogenously manipulated cortisol elevations has not yet been directly examined in depressed humans. Animal research shows that glucocorticoids have robust effects on hippocampal function, and can either enhance or suppress neuroplastic events in the hippocampus depending on a number of factors. We hypothesized that depressed individuals would show 1) altered hippocampal response to exogenous administration of cortisol, and 2) altered effects of cortisol on learning. In a repeated-measures design, 19 unmedicated depressed and 41 healthy individuals completed two fMRI scans. Fifteen mg oral hydrocortisone (i.e., cortisol) or placebo (order randomized and double-blind) was administered 1 h prior to encoding of emotional and neutral words during fMRI scans. Data analysis examined the effects of cortisol administration on 1) brain activation during encoding, and 2) subsequent free recall for words. Cortisol affected subsequent recall performance in depressed but not healthy individuals. We found alterations in hippocampal response to cortisol in depressed women, but not in depressed men (who showed altered response to cortisol in other regions, including subgenual prefrontal cortex). In both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function were positively correlated with its effects on recall performance assessed days later. Our data provide evidence that in depressed compared to healthy women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function are altered. Our data also show that in both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on emotional memory formation and hippocampal function are related.
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Converging findings suggest that depressed individuals exhibit disturbances in positive emotion. No study, however, has ascertained which specific positive emotions are implicated in depression. We report two studies that compare how depressive symptoms relate to distinct positive emotions at both trait and state levels of assessment. In Study 1 (N=185), we examined associations between depressive symptoms and three trait positive emotions (pride, happy, amusement). Study 2 compared experiential and autonomic reactivity to pride, happy, and amusement film stimuli between depressive (n=24; DS) and non-depressive (n=31; NDS) symptom groups. Results indicate that symptoms of depression were most strongly associated with decreased trait pride and decreased positive emotion experience to pride-eliciting films. Discussion focuses on the implications these findings have for understanding emotion deficits in depression as well as for the general study of positive emotion.
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BACKGROUND: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques were used to identify the neural circuitry underlying emotional processing in control and depressed subjects. Depressed subjects were studied before and after treatment with venlafaxine. This new technique provides a method to noninvasively image regional brain function with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution. METHOD: Echo-planar imaging was used to acquire whole brain images while subjects viewed positively and negatively valenced visual stimuli. Two control subjects and two depressed subjects who met DSM-IV criteria for major depression were scanned at baseline and 2 weeks later. Depressed subjects were treated with venlafaxine after the baseline scan. RESULTS: Preliminary results from this ongoing study revealed three interesting trends in the data. Both depressed patients demonstrated considerable symptomatic improvement at the time of the second scan. Across control and depressed subjects, the negative compared with the positive pictures elicited greater global activation. In both groups, activation induced by the negative pictures decreased from the baseline scan to the 2-week scan. This decrease in activation was also present in the control subjects when they were exposed to the positive pictures. In contrast, when the depressed subjects were presented with the positive pictures they showed no activation at baseline, whereas after 2 weeks of treatment an area of activation emerged in right secondary visual cortex. CONCLUSION: While preliminary, these results demonstrate the power of using fMRI to study emotional processes in normal and depressed subjects and to examine mechanisms of action of antidepressant drugs.
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The dynamic interactions among physiological rhythms imbedded in the heart rate signal can give valuable insights into autonomic modulation in conditions of reduced outward attention. Therefore, in this study we analyzed the heart rate variability (HRV) in different levels of practice in Zen meditation (Zazen). Nineteen subjects with variable experience took part in this study. In four special cases we collected both HRV and respiration data. The time series were analyzed in frequency domain and also using the Continuous Wavelet Transform, which detects changes in the time domain and in the frequency domain simultaneously. The shifts in the respiratory modulation of heart rate, or respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), reflect the different levels of practice among practitioners with variable experience in Zazen; in turn the modulation of the RSA may reflect changes in the breathing pattern as in the parasympathetic outflow related to the quality and focus of attention in each stage.
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OBJECTIVE: In this case study, we describe the effects of a particular individual's concentration/meditation technique on autonomic nervous system activity and the innate immune response. The study participant holds several world records with regard to tolerating extreme cold and claims that he can influence his autonomic nervous system and thereby his innate immune response. METHODS: The individual's ex vivo cytokine response (stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells with lipopolysaccharide [LPS]) was determined before and after an 80-minute full-body ice immersion during which the individual practiced his concentration/meditation technique. Furthermore, the individual's in vivo innate immune response was studied while practicing his concentration/mediation technique during human endotoxemia (intravenous administration of 2 ng/kg LPS). The results from the endotoxemia experiment were compared with a historical cohort of 112 individuals who participated in endotoxemia experiments in our institution. RESULTS: The ex vivo proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine response was greatly attenuated by concentration/meditation during ice immersion, accompanied by high levels of cortisol. In the endotoxemia experiment, concentration/meditation resulted in increased circulating concentrations of catecholamines, and plasma cortisol concentrations were higher than in any of the previously studied participants. The individual's in vivo cytokine response and clinical symptoms after LPS administration were remarkably low compared with previously studied participants. CONCLUSIONS: The concentration/meditation technique used by this particular individual seems to evoke a controlled stress response. This response is characterized by sympathetic nervous system activation and subsequent catecholamine/cortisol release, which seems to attenuate the innate immune response.
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Attention to internal body sensations is practiced in most meditation traditions. Many traditions state that this practice results in increased awareness of internal body sensations, but scientific studies evaluating this claim are lacking. We predicted that experienced meditators would display performance superior to that of nonmeditators on heartbeat detection, a standard noninvasive measure of resting interoceptive awareness. We compared two groups of meditators (Tibetan Buddhist and Kundalini) to an age- and body mass index-matched group of nonmeditators. Contrary to our prediction, we found no evidence that meditators were superior to nonmeditators in the heartbeat detection task, across several sessions and respiratory modulation conditions. Compared to nonmeditators, however, meditators consistently rated their interoceptive performance as superior and the difficulty of the task as easier. These results provide evidence against the notion that practicing attention to internal body sensations, a core feature of meditation, enhances the ability to sense the heartbeat at rest.
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INTRODUCTION: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is characterized by cognitive biases in attention, memory and language use. Language use biases often parallel depression symptoms, and contain over-representations of both negative emotive and death words as well as low levels of positive emotive words. This study further explores cognitive biases in depression by comparing the effect of current depression status to cumulative depression history on an elaborated verbal recall of emotional photographs. METHODS: Following a negative mood induction, fifty-two individuals (42 women) with partially-remitted depression viewed - then recalled and verbally described - slides from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). Descriptions were transcribed and frequency of depression-related word use (positive emotion, negative emotion, sex, ingestion and death) was analyzed using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count program (LIWC). RESULTS: Contrary to expectations and previous findings, current depression status did not affect word use in any categories of interest. However, individuals with more than 5 years of previous depression used fewer words related to positive emotion (t(50) = 2.10, p = .04, (d = 0.57)), and sex (t(48) = 2.50, p = .013 (d = 0.81)), and there was also a trend for these individuals to use fewer ingestion words (t(50) = 1.95, p = .057 (d = 0.58)), suggesting a deficit in appetitive processing. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that depression duration affects appetitive information processing and that appetitive word use may be a behavioral marker for duration related brain changes which may be used to inform treatment.
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Abstract Mindfulness has been incorporated into several treatment approaches for psychopathology. Despite the popularity of this approach, relatively few empirical investigations have examined the relationship between mindfulness and autonomic indicators of flexible emotion regulation, such as heart rate variability (HRV). Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has been associated with both low levels of mindfulness and HRV. In this investigation, we examined the relationship between HRV and mindfulness in the context of elevated generalized anxiety (GA) symptoms—an analog for GAD—by examining whether GA level moderated this relationship. HRV was collected while participants completed self-report measures of GA and trait mindfulness. GA level interacted with mindfulness in the prediction of HRV; in the high GA, but not low GA group, mindfulness was positively associated with HRV. This suggests that for individuals with high GA, mindfulness may enhance parasympathetic influences on the heart rate. We address the limitations of the current investigation and suggest avenues for future research on mindfulness-related changes in tonic and phasic HRV over time.

The high likelihood of recurrence in depression is linked to a progressive increase in emotional reactivity to stress (stress sensitization). Mindfulness-based therapies teach mindfulness skills designed to decrease emotional reactivity in the face of negative affect-producing stressors. The primary aim of the current study was to assess whether Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is efficacious in reducing emotional reactivity to social evaluative threat in a clinical sample with recurrent depression. A secondary aim was to assess whether improvement in emotional reactivity mediates improvements in depressive symptoms. Fifty-two individuals with partially remitted depression were randomized into an 8-week MBCT course or a waitlist control condition. All participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) before and after the 8-week trial period. Emotional reactivity to stress was assessed with the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory at several time points before, during, and after the stressor. MBCT was associated with decreased emotional reactivity to social stress, specifically during the recovery (post-stressor) phase of the TSST. Waitlist controls showed an increase in anticipatory (pre-stressor) anxiety that was absent in the MBCT group. Improvements in emotional reactivity partially mediated improvements in depressive symptoms. Limitations include small sample size, lack of objective or treatment adherence measures, and non-generalizability to more severely depressed populations. Given that emotional reactivity to stress is an important psychopathological process underlying the chronic and recurrent nature of depression, these findings suggest that mindfulness skills are important in adaptive emotion regulation when coping with stress.
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BACKGROUND: Many antidepressant medications (ADM) are associated with disruptions in sleep continuity that can compromise medication adherence and impede successful treatment. The present study investigated whether mindfulness meditation (MM) training could improve self-reported and objectively measured polysomnographic (PSG) sleep profiles in depressed individuals who had achieved at least partial remission with ADM, but still had residual sleep complaints. METHODS: Twenty-three ADM users with sleep complaints were randomized into an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course or a waitlist control condition. Pre-post measurements included PSG sleep studies and subjectively reported sleep, residual depression symptoms. RESULTS: Compared to controls, the MBCT participants improved on both PSG and subjective measures of sleep. They showed a pattern of decreased wake time and increased sleep efficiency. Sleep depth, as measured by stage 1 and slow-wave sleep, did not change as a result of mindfulness training. CONCLUSIONS: MM is associated with increases in both objectively and subjectively measured sleep continuity in ADM users. MM training may serve as more desirable and cost-effective alternative to discontinuation or supplementation with hypnotics, and may contribute to a more sustainable recovery from depression.

BACKGROUND: Many antidepressant medications (ADM) are associated with disruptions in sleep continuity that can compromise medication adherence and impede successful treatment. The present study investigated whether mindfulness meditation (MM) training could improve self-reported and objectively measured polysomnographic (PSG) sleep profiles in depressed individuals who had achieved at least partial remission with ADM, but still had residual sleep complaints. METHODS: Twenty-three ADM users with sleep complaints were randomized into an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course or a waitlist control condition. Pre-post measurements included PSG sleep studies and subjectively reported sleep, residual depression symptoms. RESULTS: Compared to controls, the MBCT participants improved on both PSG and subjective measures of sleep. They showed a pattern of decreased wake time and increased sleep efficiency. Sleep depth, as measured by stage 1 and slow-wave sleep, did not change as a result of mindfulness training. CONCLUSIONS: MM is associated with increases in both objectively and subjectively measured sleep continuity in ADM users. MM training may serve as more desirable and cost-effective alternative to discontinuation or supplementation with hypnotics, and may contribute to a more sustainable recovery from depression.
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Although there is much evidence demonstrating muscle tension changes during mental work, there are few data concerning muscle tension patterns during effortful attention to simple sensory stimuli. In the present study, sensory attention was evoked by a pitch discrimination task at three levels of difficulty, with a digit retention task administered for comparison. Twenty-four females each performed both tasks at all levels of difficulty, while the EKG, and the corrugator supercilii, frontalis, lip, jaw, chin, and forearm area EMG were recorded. As expected, heart rate decreased significantly with increasing difficulty of the pitch task. A pattern of facial EMG responses accompanied the pitch task, which included significant increases in corrugator and frontalis, and decreases in the jaw as a function of difficulty, and time within trials. The tension pattern observed during sensory intake is discussed in terms of its relation to emotional expressions and motor theories of attention.
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Anxiety is a debilitating symptom of many psychiatric disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, mood disorders, schizophrenia, and autism. Anxiety involves changes in both central and peripheral biology, yet extant functional imaging studies have focused exclusively on the brain. Here we show, using functional brain and cardiac imaging in sequential brain and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sessions in response to cues that predict either threat (a possible shock) or safety (no possibility of shock), that MR signal change in the amygdala and the prefrontal and insula cortices predicts cardiac contractility to the threat of shock. Participants with greater MR signal change in these regions show increased cardiac contractility to the threat versus safety condition, a measure of the sympathetic nervous system contribution to the myocardium. These findings demonstrate robust neural-cardiac coupling during induced anxiety and indicate that individuals with greater activation in brain regions identified with aversive emotion show larger magnitude cardiac contractility increases to threat.
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Aversive Pavlovian conditioning is an important tool used to investigate neurobiological mechanisms underlying the acquisition and expression of fear. Most studies have used nonprimate species employing electrical shock as the unconditioned stimulus (US). Although important advances have been made in understanding the neural substrates of conditioned fear, the extent to which these findings apply to primates is unclear. Research in primates has not progressed because of the lack of a conditioning paradigm that does not use shock. Therefore, we developed a method that uses a US consisting of a loud noise coupled with a stream of compressed air aimed at the face to aversively condition heart rate response in rhesus monkeys. With this US, rhesus monkeys rapidly acquire a conditioned bradycardia. The availability of an easy, reliable, and efficient method of aversive conditioning that does not require electrical shock, will facilitate studies investigating neurobiological mechanisms underlying the acquisition and expression of fear in primates.
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OBJECTIVES: To examine whether mindfulness meditation (MM) was associated with changes in objectively measured polysomnographic (PSG) sleep profiles and to relate changes in PSG sleep to subjectively reported changes in sleep and depression within the context of a randomized controlled trial. Previous studies have indicated that mindfulness and other forms of meditation training are associated with improvements in sleep quality. However, none of these studies used objective PSG sleep recordings within longitudinal randomized controlled trials of naïve subjects. METHODS: Twenty-six individuals with partially remitted depression were randomized into an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course or a waitlist control condition. Pre-post measurements included PSG sleep studies and subjectively reported sleep and depression symptoms. RESULTS: According to PSG sleep, MM practice was associated with several indices of increased cortical arousal, including more awakenings and stage 1 sleep and less slow-wave sleep relative to controls, in proportion to amount of MM practice. According to sleep diaries, subjectively reported sleep improved post MBCT but not above and beyond controls. Beck Depression Inventory scores decreased more in the MBCT group than controls. Improvements in depression were associated with increased subjective sleep continuity and increased PSG arousal. CONCLUSIONS: MM is associated with increases in objectively measured arousal during sleep with simultaneous improvements in subjectively reported sleep quality and mood disturbance. This pattern is similar to the profiles of positive responders to common antidepressant medications.
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