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Reduced age-related gray matter loss in the subgenual cingulate cortex in long-term meditators

  • SI: Pacific Rim 2020
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Accumulating evidence suggests that meditation practices have positive effects on brain ageing overall. The cingulate is known to be recruited during meditation, but research into possible effects of meditation on the ageing of the cingulate is currently missing. Thus, the present study was designed to help close this knowledge gap, with particular focus on the subgenual cingulate, a region involved in emotional regulation and autonomic and endocrine functions, making it potentially relevant for meditation. Here, we investigated differences in age-related gray matter loss between 50 long-term meditation practitioners (28 male, 22 female), aged between 24 and 77, and 50 age- and sex-matched controls. Areas of interest were four subregions of the subgenual cingulate gyrus (areas 25, 33, s24, and s32) defined as per the Julich-Brain atlas. Our study revealed a significant age-related decline in all subregions in both meditators and controls, but with significantly lower rates of annual tissue loss in meditators, specifically in left and right area s32 and right area 25. These regions have been shown to play a role in mood regulation, autonomic processing, and the integration of emotion and cognitive processes, which are all involved in and impacted by meditation. Overall, the results add further evidence to the emerging notion that meditation may slow the effects of ageing on the brain.

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We warmly thank all meditation practitioners for their participation in our study. The authors are also grateful to Trent Thixton who assisted with the acquisition of the image data. Some data used in the preparation of this work were obtained from the International Consortium for Brain Mapping (ICBM) database.

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Author contributions included conception and study design (EL, FK), data collection or acquisition (EL), data processing and statistical analysis (FK), interpretation of results (EL, FK, SZ), drafting the manuscript and revising it critically for important intellectual content, approval of final version to be published and agreement to be accountable for the integrity and accuracy of all aspects of the work (EL, FK, SZ).

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Correspondence to Florian Kurth.

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All study participants gave informed consent in accordance with the policies and procedures of the Institutional Review Board at the University of California (UCLA).

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Florian Kurth and Sára E. Zsadanyi Shared First Authors

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Kurth, F., Zsadanyi, S.E. & Luders, E. Reduced age-related gray matter loss in the subgenual cingulate cortex in long-term meditators. Brain Imaging and Behavior 15, 2824–2832 (2021).

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