Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdale. Social Cognitive Affect Neuroscience, 5, 11-17

Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 7.37). 09/2009; 5(1):11-7. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsp034
Source: PubMed


Stress has significant adverse effects on health and is a risk factor for many illnesses. Neurobiological studies have implicated the amygdala as a brain structure crucial in stress responses. Whereas hyperactive amygdala function is often observed during stress conditions, cross-sectional reports of differences in gray matter structure have been less consistent. We conducted a longitudinal MRI study to investigate the relationship between changes in perceived stress with changes in amygdala gray matter density following a stress-reduction intervention. Stressed but otherwise healthy individuals (N = 26) participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention. Perceived stress was rated on the perceived stress scale (PSS) and anatomical MR images were acquired pre- and post-intervention. PSS change was used as the predictive regressor for changes in gray matter density within the bilateral amygdalae. Following the intervention, participants reported significantly reduced perceived stress. Reductions in perceived stress correlated positively with decreases in right basolateral amygdala gray matter density. Whereas prior studies found gray matter modifications resulting from acquisition of abstract information, motor and language skills, this study demonstrates that neuroplastic changes are associated with improvements in a psychological state variable.

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Available from: Jeffery A Dusek, Oct 05, 2015
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    • "Of primary interest has been how these interventions change psychological states and the underlying neural activity. Participants in an MBSR course, for example, exhibited reductions in perceived stress, together with less gray matter density in the amygdala (Hölzel et al., 2009). MBSR participants have also demonstrated reduced neural reactivity to sadness , especially in cortical midline areas associated with self-referential processing, relative to a wait list control group (Farb et al., 2010). "
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    ABSTRACT: Ruminative thoughts about a stressful event can seem subjectively real, as if the imagined event were happening in the moment. One possibility is that this subjective realism results from simulating the self as engaged in the stressful event (immersion). If so, then the process of decentering-disengaging the self from the event-should reduce the subjective realism associated with immersion, and therefore perceived stressfulness. To assess this account of decentering, we taught non-meditators a strategy for disengaging from imagined events, simply viewing these events as transient mental states (mindful attention). In a subsequent neuroimaging session, participants imagined stressful and non-stressful events, while either immersing themselves or adopting mindful attention. In conjunction analyses, mindful attention down-regulated the processing of stressful events relative to baseline, whereas immersion up-regulated their processing. In direct contrasts between mindful attention and immersion, mindful attention showed greater activity in brain areas associated with perspective shifting and effortful attention, whereas immersion showed greater activity in areas associated with self-processing and visceral states. These results suggest that mindful attention produces decentering by disengaging embodied senses of self from imagined situations so that affect does not develop. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Neuropsychologia 06/2015; 75. DOI:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.05.030 · 3.30 Impact Factor
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    • "Here, we tested the extent to which mindfulness alters stress-related amygdala rsFC for three reasons: (i) The amygdala is a cell complex that is centrally involved in processing psychological stressors and coordinating physiological stress responses (LeDoux 1994; Arnsten 2009). (ii) Recent studies show that greater reported mindfulness is associated with reduced amygdala volumes and task-based amygdala activation (Goldin and Gross 2010; Hö lzel et al., 2010; Way et al., 2010; Taren et al., 2013; Desbordes et al., 2012). (iii) Anatomical studies in animal models indicate robust amygdala connectivity to other brain regions considered to be integral for processing stressors and orchestrating stress reactions [e.g. "
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    ABSTRACT: Recent studies indicate that mindfulness meditation training interventions reduce stress and improve stress-related health outcomes, but the neural pathways for these effects are unknown. The present research evaluates whether mindfulness meditation training alters resting state functional connectivity of the amygdala, a region known to coordinate stress processing and physiological stress responses. We show in an initial discovery study that higher perceived stress over the past month is associated with greater bilateral amygdala-subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) in a sample of community adults (N=130). A follow-up, single-blind randomized controlled trial (RCT) shows that a 3-day intensive mindfulness meditation training intervention (relative to a well-matched 3-day relaxation training intervention without a mindfulness component) reduced right amygdala-sgACC rsFC in a sample of stressed unemployed community adults (N=35). Although stress may increase amygdala-subgenual anterior cingulate cortex rsFC, brief training in mindfulness meditation could reverse these effects. This work provides an initial indication that mindfulness meditation training promotes functional neuroplastic changes, suggesting an amygdala-sgACC pathway for stress reduction effects. © The Author (2015). Published by Oxford University Press. For Permissions, please email:
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 06/2015; DOI:10.1093/scan/nsv066 · 7.37 Impact Factor
    • "Hippocampal volume reduction in prolonged depression, Type 2 diabetes and Cushing's disease is associated with cognitive and mood impairment (Convit et al., 2003; Gold et al., 2007; Sheline, 2003; Starkman et al., 1992). These conditions require external intervention that may include use of antidepressants (Vermetten et al., 2003), surgery to reduce hypercortisolemia (Starkman et al., 1999), regular physical activity (Erickson et al., 2011) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (Holzel et al., 2010). that sex differences involve brain systems that mediate how males and females interpret stressful stimuli and that a sense of control is paramount to coping with those stimuli. "
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    ABSTRACT: As the central organ of stress and adaptation to stressors, the brain plays a pivotal role in behavioral and physiological responses that may lead to successful adaptation or to pathophysiology and mental and physical disease. In this context, resilience can be defined as "achieving a positive outcome in the face of adversity". Underlying this deceptively simple statement are several questions; first, to what extent is this ability limited to those environments that have shaped the individual or can it be more flexible; second, when in the life course does the brain develop capacity for flexibility for adapting positively to new challenges; and third, can such flexibility be instated in individuals where early life experiences have limited that capacity? Brain architecture continues to show plasticity throughout adult life and studies of gene expression and epigenetic regulation reveal a dynamic and ever-changing brain. The goal is to recognize those biological changes that underlie flexible adaptability, and to recognize gene pathways, epigenetic factors and structural changes that indicate lack of resilience leading to negative outcomes, particularly when the individual is challenged by new circumstances. Early life experiences determine individual differences in such capabilities via epigenetic pathways and laying down of brain architecture that determine the later capacity for flexible adaptation or the lack thereof. Reactivation of such plasticity in individuals lacking such resilience is a new challenge for research and practical application. Finally, sex differences in the plasticity of the brain are often overlooked and must be more fully investigated.
    01/2015; 1(1):1-11. DOI:10.1016/j.ynstr.2014.09.001
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