Meditation Research: Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation


Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation

  1. Yi-Yuan Tanga,b,c,1,
  2. Qilin Lub,
  3. Ming Fand,
  4. Yihong Yange, and
  5. Michael I. Posnerc,1

+ Author Affiliations

  1. aDepartment of Psychology, Texas Tech Neuroimaging Institute, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 79409;

  2. bInstitute of Neuroinformatics and Laboratory for Body and Mind, Dalian University of Technology, Dalian 116024, China;

  3. cDepartment of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403;

  4. dInstitute of Basic Medical Sciences, Beijing 100850, China; and

  5. eNeuroimaging Research Branch, National Institute on Drug Abuse-Intramural Research Program, Baltimore, MD 21224
  1. Contributed by Michael I. Posner, May 9, 2012 (sent for review April 6, 2012)


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.

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