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Zen meditation, a Buddhist practice centered on attentional and postural self-regulation, has been speculated to bring about beneficial long-term effects for the individual, ranging from stress reduction to improvement of cognitive function. In this study, we examined how the regular practice of meditation may affect the normal age-related decline of cerebral gray matter volume and attentional performance observed in healthy individuals. Voxel-based morphometry for MRI anatomical brain images and a computerized sustained attention task were employed in 13 regular practitioners of Zen meditation and 13 matched controls. While control subjects displayed the expected negative correlation of both gray matter volume and attentional performance with age, meditators did not show a significant correlation of either measure with age. The effect of meditation on gray matter volume was most prominent in the putamen, a structure strongly implicated in attentional processing. These findings suggest that the regular practice of meditation may have neuroprotective effects and reduce the cognitive decline associated with normal aging.

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to promote emotional stability. Moreover, during the processing of aversive and self-referential stimuli, mindful awareness is associated with reduced medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) activity, a central default mode network (DMN) component. However, it remains unclear whether mindfulness practice influences functional connectivity between DMN regions and, if so, whether such impact persists beyond a state of meditation. Consequently, this study examined the effect of extensive mindfulness training on functional connectivity within the DMN during a restful state. Resting-state data were collected from 13 experienced meditators (with over 1000 h of training) and 11 beginner meditators (with no prior experience, trained for 1 week before the study) using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Pairwise correlations and partial correlations were computed between DMN seed regions’ time courses and were compared between groups utilizing a Bayesian sampling scheme. Relative to beginners, experienced meditators had weaker functional connectivity between DMN regions involved in self-referential processing and emotional appraisal. In addition, experienced meditators had increased connectivity between certain DMN regions (e.g. dorso-medial PFC and right inferior parietal lobule), compared to beginner meditators. These findings suggest that meditation training leads to functional connectivity changes between core DMN regions possibly reflecting strengthened present-moment awareness.

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.

An extensive body of research defines the default-mode network (DMN) to be one of the critical networks of the human brain, playing a pivotal functional role in processes of internal mentation. Alterations in the connectivity of this network as a function of aging have been found, with reductions associated with functional ramifications for the elderly population. This study examined associations between integrity of the DMN and trait levels of mindfulness disposition, defined by our ability to exert attentional and emotional control in the present moment, and, thereby, bring awareness to immediate experiences. Twenty-five older adults participated in the study and underwent a brief functional magnetic resonance imaging session and filled out questionnaires related to their overall health and mindfulness disposition. Mindfulness disposition was associated with greater connectivity of the DMN, specifically, in the dorsal posterior cingulate cortex and the precuneus. Mindfulness disposition, thus, explains variance in the connectivity of one of the more intrinsic networks of the human brain, known to be critical for promoting self-relevant mental explorations and building cognitive and affective control.

The tensor-based morphometry (TBM) has been widely used in characterizing tissue volume difference between populations at voxel level. We present a novel computational framework for investigating the white matter connectivity using TBM. Unlike other diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) based white matter connectivity studies, we do not use DTI but only T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). To construct brain network graphs, we have developed a new data-driven approach called the e-neighbor method that does not need any predetermined parcellation. The proposed pipeline is applied in detecting the topological alteration of the white matter connectivity in maltreated children.
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<p>Previous functional imaging studies have shown key roles of the dorsal anterior insula (dAI) and anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) in empathy for the suffering of others. The current study mapped structural covariance networks of these regions and assessed the relationship between networks and individual differences in empathic responding in 94 females. Individual differences in empathy were assessed through average state measures in response to a video task showing others' suffering, and through questionnaire-based trait measures of empathic concern. Overall, covariance patterns indicated that dAI and aMCC are principal hubs within prefrontal, temporolimbic, and midline structural covariance networks. Importantly, participants with high empathy state ratings showed increased covariance of dAI, but not aMCC, to prefrontal and limbic brain regions. This relationship was specific for empathy and could not be explained by individual differences in negative affect ratings. Regarding questionnaire-based empathic trait measures, we observed a similar, albeit weaker modulation of dAI covariance, confirming the robustness of our findings. Our analysis, thus, provides novel evidence for a specific contribution of frontolimbic structural covariance networks to individual differences in social emotions beyond negative affect.</p>
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