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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.

This study describes the effects of an 8-week course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR; J. Kabat-Zinn, 1982, 1990) on affective symptoms (depression and anxiety), dysfunctional attitudes, and rumination. Given the focus of mindfulness meditation (MM) in modifying cognitive processes, it was hypothesized that the primary change in MM practice involves reductions in ruminative tendencies. We studied a sample of individuals with lifetime mood disorders who were assessed prior to and upon completion of an MBSR course. We also compared a waitlist sample matched with a subset of the MBSR completers. Overall, the results suggest that MM practice primarily leads to decreases in ruminative thinking, even after controlling for reductions in affective symptoms and dysfunctional beliefs.

The authors present an overview of the neural bases of emotion. They underscore the role of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and amygdala in 2 broad approach- and withdrawal-related emotion systems. Components and measures of affective style are identified. Emphasis is given to affective chronometry and a role for the PFC in this process is proposed. Plasticity in the central circuitry of emotion is considered, and implications of data showing experience-induced changes in the hippocampus for understanding psychopathology and stress-related symptoms are discussed. Two key forms of affective plasticity are described--context and regulation. A role for the hippocampus in context-dependent normal and dysfunctional emotional responding is proposed. Finally, implications of these data for understanding the impact on neural circuitry of interventions to promote positive affect and on mechanisms that govern health and disease are considered.
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<p>Mindfulness meditation is an increasingly popular intervention for the treatment of physical illnesses and psychological difficulties. Using intervention strategies with mechanisms familiar to cognitive behavioral therapists, the principles and practice of mindfulness meditation offer promise for promoting many of the most basic elements of positive psychology. It is proposed that mindfulness meditation promotes positive adjustment by strengthening metacognitive skills and by changing schemas related to emotion, health, and illness. Additionally, the benefits of yoga as a mindfulness practice are explored. Even though much empirical work is needed to determine the parameters of mindfulness meditation's benefits, and the mechanisms by which it may achieve these benefits, theory and data thus far clearly suggest the promise of mindfulness as a link between positive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapies.</p>

BACKGROUND: Relationships between aberrant social functioning and depression have been explored via behavioral, clinical, and survey methodologies, highlighting their importance in the etiology of depression. The neural underpinnings of these relationships, however, have not been explored. METHODS: Nine depressed participants and 14 never-depressed control subjects viewed emotional and neutral pictures at two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning sessions approximately 22 weeks apart. In the interim, depressed patients received the antidepressant Venlafaxine. Positively rated images were parsed into three separate comparisons: social interaction, human faces, and sexual images; across scanning session, activation to these images was compared with other positively rated images. RESULTS: For each of the three social stimulus types (social interaction, faces, sexual images), a distinguishable circuitry was activated equally in non-depressed control subjects and post-treatment depressed subjects but showed a hypo-response in the depressed group pre-treatment. These structures include regions of prefrontal, temporal, and parietal cortices, insula, basal ganglia, and the hippocampus. CONCLUSIONS: The neural hypo-response to positively valenced social stimuli that is observed in depression remits as response to antidepressant medication occurs, suggesting a state-dependent deficiency in response to positive social incentives. These findings underscore the importance of addressing social dysfunction in research and treatment of depression.
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Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a relatively new intervention that has been developed to help people with recurrent depression stay well in the long term. Although there is evidence that depression impacts negatively on parenting, little is known regarding MBCT’s potential impact on parenting. This study used a qualitative design to explore how parents with a history of recurrent depression experience their relationships with their children one year after MBCT. We interviewed 16 parents who had participated in MBCT as part of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) (Kuyken et al., 2008). Thematic analysis was used to identify prevalent themes in parents’ accounts, including: (i) emotional reactivity and regulation; (ii) empathy and acceptance; (iii) involvement; (iv) emotional availability and comfort; and (v) recognition of own needs. Based on these exploratory findings, we suggest that some components of MBCT may help parents with a history of depression with emotional availability, emotion regulation and self-care and set out avenues of further research.

Although depressed mood is a normal occurrence in response to adversity in all individuals, what distinguishes those who are vulnerable to major depressive disorder (MDD) is their inability to effectively regulate negative mood when it arises. Investigating the neural underpinnings of adaptive emotion regulation and the extent to which such processes are compromised in MDD may be helpful in understanding the pathophysiology of depression. We report results from a functional magnetic resonance imaging study demonstrating left-lateralized activation in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) when downregulating negative affect in nondepressed individuals, whereas depressed individuals showed bilateral PFC activation. Furthermore, during an effortful affective reappraisal task, nondepressed individuals showed an inverse relationship between activation in left ventrolateral PFC and the amygdala that is mediated by the ventromedial PFC (VMPFC). No such relationship was found for depressed individuals, who instead show a positive association between VMPFC and amygdala. Pupil dilation data suggest that those depressed patients who expend more effort to reappraise negative stimuli are characterized by accentuated activation in the amygdala, insula, and thalamus, whereas nondepressed individuals exhibit the opposite pattern. These findings indicate that a key feature underlying the pathophysiology of major depression is the counterproductive engagement of right prefrontal cortex and the lack of engagement of left lateral-ventromedial prefrontal circuitry important for the downregulation of amygdala responses to negative stimuli.
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High vs. low scorers on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) were compared on measures of resting EEG activation asymmetry from frontal and parietal brain regions. Depressed subjects showed greater relative right frontal activation compared with nondepressed subjects. Parietal asymmetry did not distinguish between the groups. These data support the hypothesis of right hemisphere hyperactivation in the frontal region of depressed individuals and are consistent with the growing body of literature which suggests that the left and right frontal regions may be differentially specialized for particular positive and negative affects.
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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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<p>It is well known that the eating patterns that restrain chronic dieters (restrained eaters) can be disinhibited by anxiety, which in turn has been associated with relative right frontal brain activity in independent electroencephalographic (EEG) studies. Combining these two lines of evidence, the authors tested the hypothesis that chronic restrained eating is associated with relative right frontal asymmetry. Resting anterior brain asymmetry and self-reported measures of anxiety and depression were collected in 23 restrained and 32 unrestrained eaters. As hypothesized, groups differed in tonic frontal activity, with restrained eaters showing more relative right frontal activity. Furthermore, relative right frontal activity was associated with greater self-reported restraint. Right-sided prefrontal asymmetry may thus represent a diathesis associated with increased vulnerability toward restrained eating.</p>
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Major depression is a heterogeneous condition, and the search for neural correlates specific to clinically defined subtypes has been inconclusive. Theoretical considerations implicate frontostriatal, particularly subgenual prefrontal cortex (PFC), dysfunction in the pathophysiology of melancholia--a subtype of depression characterized by anhedonia--but no empirical evidence has been found yet for such a link. To test the hypothesis that melancholic, but not nonmelancholic depression, is associated with the subgenual PFC impairment, concurrent measurement of brain electrical (electroencephalogram, EEG) and metabolic (positron emission tomography, PET) activity were obtained in 38 unmedicated subjects with DSM-IV major depressive disorder (20 melancholic, 18 nonmelancholic subjects), and 18 comparison subjects. EEG data were analyzed with a tomographic source localization method that computed the cortical three-dimensional distribution of current density for standard frequency bands, allowing voxelwise correlations between the EEG and PET data. Voxel-based morphometry analyses of structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data were performed to assess potential structural abnormalities in melancholia. Melancholia was associated with reduced activity in the subgenual PFC (Brodmann area 25), manifested by increased inhibitory delta activity (1.5-6.0 Hz) and decreased glucose metabolism, which themselves were inversely correlated. Following antidepressant treatment, depressed subjects with the largest reductions in depression severity showed the lowest post-treatment subgenual PFC delta activity. Analyses of structural MRI revealed no group differences in the subgenual PFC, but in melancholic subjects, a negative correlation between gray matter density and age emerged. Based on preclinical evidence, we suggest that subgenual PFC dysfunction in melancholia may be associated with blunted hedonic response and exaggerated stress responsiveness.
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<p>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.</p>
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BACKGROUND: Although it has been hypothesized that glucocorticoid hypersecretion in depressed patients leads to neuronal atrophy in the hippocampus, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) -based morphometry studies of the hippocampus to date have produced mixed results. METHODS: In our MRI study, hippocampal volumes were measured in 25 depressed patients (13 with melancholia and 12 without melancholia) and 15 control subjects. RESULTS: No significant differences in hippocampus volumes were found between any of the subject groups, although within subjects right hippocampal volumes were found to be significantly larger than left hippocampal volumes. Additionally, right and total (left + right) hippocampal volumes in control and depressed subjects were found to be positively correlated with trait anxiety as measured by the state/trait anxiety inventory. CONCLUSIONS: Because our subject group is younger than those in studies reporting hippocampal atrophy, we conclude that longitudinal studies will be necessary for investigation of the lifelong course of hippocampal volumetry.
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Baseline resting electroencephalogram activity was recorded with 3 different reference montages from 15 clinically depressed and 13 control subjects. Power in all frequency bands was extracted by fast Fourier transformation. There was a significant Group X Hemisphere interaction in the mid-frontal region, for the alpha band power only. Depressed subjects had less left-sided activation (i.e., more alpha activity) than did normal control subjects. This pattern of diminished left-sided frontal activation is interpreted as indicating a deficit in approach mechanisms in depressed subjects.
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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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The role of the amygdala in major depression was investigated. Resting regional cerebral metabolic rate (rCMRglu) was measured with [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (PET) in two samples of subjects using two different PET cameras. The samples consisted of 10 and 17 medication-free depressives and 11 and 13 controls, respectively. Using coregistration of PET and magnetic resonance images, regions were individually delineated for the amygdala and thalamus, the latter of which was used as a control region. Within the depressed groups, right amygdalar rCMRglu was positively correlated with negative affect. Thalamic rCMRglu was not related to negative affect, and amygdalar rCMRglu accounted for a significant portion of variance in depressives' negative affect scores over and above the contribution of thalamic rCMRglu.
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<p>Recovered recurrently depressed patients were randomized to treatment as usual (TAU) or TAU plus mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Replicating previous findings, MBCT reduced relapse from 78% to 36% in 55 patients with 3 or more previous episodes; but in 18 patients with only 2 (recent) episodes corresponding figures were 20% and 50%. MBCT was most effective in preventing relapses not preceded by life events. Relapses were more often associated with significant life events in the 2-episode group. This group also reported less childhood adversity and later first depression onset than the 3-or-more-episode group, suggesting that these groups represented distinct populations. MBCT is an effective and efficient way to prevent relapse/recurrence in recovered depressed patients with 3 or more previous episodes.</p>

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.

<p>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.</p>
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Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), a meditation-based maintenance therapy, reduces the relapse risk in individuals suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD). However, only a few studies investigated the psychophysiological mechanisms underlying this protective effect. We examined effects of MBCT on trait rumination and mindfulness, as indicators of global cognitive style, as well as on residual depressive symptoms in a group of recurrently depressed patients (n = 78) in remission. Additionally, alpha asymmetry in resting-state electroencephalogram (EEG) was assessed. Alpha asymmetry has been found to be predictive of affective style and a pattern indicative of stronger relative right-hemispheric anterior cortical activity may represent a trait marker for the vulnerability to develop MDD. In line with previous findings, residual depressive symptoms and trait rumination decreased, whereas trait mindfulness increased following MBCT, while no such changes took place in a wait-list control group. Mean values of alpha asymmetry, on the other hand, remained unaffected by training, and shifted systematically toward a pattern indicative of stronger relative right-hemispheric anterior cortical activity in the whole sample. These findings provide further support for the protective effect of MBCT. In the examined patients who were at an extremely high risk for relapse, however, this effect did not manifest itself on a neurophysiological level in terms of alpha asymmetry, where a shift, putatively indicative of increased vulnerability, was observed.

OBJECTIVES: This study investigated the relationships between a mindfulness-based stress reduction meditation program for early stage breast and prostate cancer patients and quality of life, mood states, stress symptoms, lymphocyte counts, and cytokine production. METHODS: Forty-nine patients with breast cancer and 10 with prostate cancer participated in an 8-week MBSR program that incorporated relaxation, meditation, gentle yoga, and daily home practice. Demographic and health behavior variables, quality of life (EORTC QLQ C-30), mood (POMS), stress (SOSI), and counts of NK, NKT, B, T total, T helper, and T cytotoxic cells, as well as NK and T cell production of TNF, IFN-γ, IL-4, and IL-10 were assessed pre- and postintervention. RESULTS: Fifty-nine and 42 patients were assessed pre- and postintervention, respectively. Significant improvements were seen in overall quality of life, symptoms of stress, and sleep quality. Although there were no significant changes in the overall number of lymphocytes or cell subsets, T cell production of IL-4 increased and IFN-γ decreased, whereas NK cell production of IL-10 decreased. These results are consistent with a shift in immune profile from one associated with depressive symptoms to a more normal profile. CONCLUSIONS: MBSR participation was associated with enhanced quality of life and decreased stress symptoms in breast and prostate cancer patients. This study is also the first to show changes in cancer-related cytokine production associated with program participation.

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