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Using diffusion tensor imaging, several recent studies have shown that training results in changes in white matter efficiency as measured by fractional anisotropy (FA). In our work, we found that a form of mindfulness meditation, integrative body–mind training (IBMT), improved FA in areas surrounding the anterior cingulate cortex after 4-wk training more than controls given relaxation training. Reductions in radial diffusivity (RD) have been interpreted as improved myelin but reductions in axial diffusivity (AD) involve other mechanisms, such as axonal density. We now report that after 4-wk training with IBMT, both RD and AD decrease accompanied by increased FA, indicating improved efficiency of white matter involves increased myelin as well as other axonal changes. However, 2-wk IBMT reduced AD, but not RD or FA, and improved moods. Our results demonstrate the time-course of white matter neuroplasticity in short-term meditation. This dynamic pattern of white matter change involving the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain network related to self-regulation, could provide a means for intervention to improve or prevent mental disorders.
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is part of a network implicated in the development of self-regulation and whose connectivity changes dramatically in development. In previous studies we showed that 3 h of mental training, based on traditional Chinese medicine (integrative body–mind training, IBMT), increases ACC activity and improves self-regulation. However, it is not known whether changes in white matter connectivity can result from small amounts of mental training. We here report that 11 h of IBMT increases fractional anisotropy (FA), an index indicating the integrity and efficiency of white matter in the corona radiata, an important white-matter tract connecting the ACC to other structures. Thus IBMT could provide a means for improving self-regulation and perhaps reducing or preventing various mental disorders.