Increased Gray-Matter Volume in the Right Angular and Posterior Parahippocampal Gyri in Loving-Kindness Meditators

Laboratory of Neuropsychology, The University of Hong Kong, Room 610, Knowles Building, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, China. .
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 7.37). 07/2012; 8(1). DOI: 10.1093/scan/nss076
Source: PubMed


Previous voxel-based morphometry (VBM) studies have revealed that meditation is associated with structural brain changes in
regions underlying cognitive processes that are required for attention or mindfulness during meditation. This VBM study examined
brain changes related to the practice of an emotion-oriented meditation: loving-kindness meditation (LKM). A 3 T magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI) scanner captured images of the brain structures of 25 men, 10 of whom had practiced LKM in the Theravada
tradition for at least 5 years. Compared with novices, more gray matter volume was detected in the right angular and posterior
parahippocampal gyri in LKM experts. The right angular gyrus has not been previously reported to have structural differences
associated with meditation, and its specific role in mind and cognitive empathy theory suggests the uniqueness of this finding
for LKM practice. These regions are important for affective regulation associated with empathic response, anxiety and mood.
At the same time, gray matter volume in the left temporal lobe in the LKM experts appeared to be greater, an observation that
has also been reported in previous MRI meditation studies on meditation styles other than LKM. Overall, the findings of our
study suggest that experience in LKM may influence brain structures associated with affective regulation.

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    • "Increases in the axonal connectivity have been found in the corpus callosum and in the longitudinal fasciculus (Luders et al., 2011; Tang et al., 2012; Fox et al., 2014). Increases in gray matter volume have been found in both hippocampal and parahippocampal gyri (Hölzel et al., 2008; Leung et al., 2013), with some studies showing a larger right hippocampal gray matter increase (Hölzel et al., 2008; Luders et al., 2009), and others left (Hölzel et al., 2011; Luders et al., 2013). An ongoing issue for morphometric studies using MRI and PET has been disentangling what exactly is contributing to the observed increases in cortical thickness. "

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    • "Neural plasticity refers to the capacity of our brain to change in response to internal demand and/or external experience [1]. Burgeoning research has corroborated that the neural plastic changes induced in our brains and behaviors are specific to the experiences (e.g., [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]). For instance, the London taxi drivers who have protracted experience in driving around the city with complex road infrastructure demonstrated significant increases in brain structural volume in the posterior hippocampus, which is implicated in storing spatial representation of the environment, suggesting that intensive experiences with spatial navigation can induce specific neural plastic changes in the corresponding brain region [3]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Increasing research has evidenced that our brain retains a capacity to change in response to experience until late adulthood. This implies that cognitive training can possibly ameliorate age-associated cognitive decline by inducing training-specific neural plastic changes at both neural and behavioral levels. This longitudinal study examined the behavioral effects of a systematic thirteen-week cognitive training program on attention and working memory of older adults who were at risk of cognitive decline. These older adults were randomly assigned to the Cognitive Training Group ( n = 109 ) and the Active Control Group ( n = 100 ). Findings clearly indicated that training induced improvement in auditory and visual-spatial attention and working memory. The training effect was specific to the experience provided because no significant difference in verbal and visual-spatial memory between the two groups was observed. This pattern of findings is consistent with the prediction and the principle of experience-dependent neuroplasticity. Findings of our study provided further support to the notion that the neural plastic potential continues until older age. The baseline cognitive status did not correlate with pre- versus posttraining changes to any cognitive variables studied, suggesting that the initial cognitive status may not limit the neuroplastic potential of the brain at an old age.
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    • "In a further quantitative meta-analysis, Spreng and colleagues demonstrated a strong overlap of the autobiographical brain network and the DMN, particularly in the PHG (Spreng et al., 2009). Interestingly, increased gray matter volume in the parahippocampal gyri was found in meditators (Leung et al., 2013), whereas the cortex was thinner in this area in late life depressive patients who did not respond to psychotherapy (Mackin et al., 2012). "
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