An Integrated Assessment of Changes in Brain Structure and Function of the Insula Resulting from an Intensive Mindfulness-Based Intervention

Abstract

Mindfulness training is thought to alter both brain function and structure, yet these effects are almost always investigated and reported independently. In the present study, we combine these two approaches to provide a more complete description of the effects of a 6-week mindfulness-based health and wellness intervention. Region-of-interest analysis of brain structure revealed a significant increase in cortical thickness within the left-hemisphere posterior insula, a region that plays a role in auditory perception and interoception. We then examined changes in the resting-state functional connectivity (rs-FC) of this insula cluster and found two regions with which it displayed increased functional connectivity: one in the right-hemisphere ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC) and another spanning parts of the left-hemisphere middle and superior temporal gyri (MTG/STG). Individuals with the greatest improvements in dispositional mindfulness showed the greatest increases in insular thickness as well as greater increases in rs-FC of the posterior insula with vlPFC and MTG/STG. The insula, vlPFC, and MTG/STG comprise a structurally connected network involved in, respectively, early auditory perception, the allocation of attention to changes in sounds, and the detailed analysis of fluctuations in sounds. Accordingly, these findings suggest a mechanistic account of the alterations in brain structure and function that underlie changes in auditory processing following a mindfulness-based intervention.

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Correspondence to Michael D. Mrazek.

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This research was supported by the John Templeton Foundation grant 52071 and the Shao Family Charitable Trust.

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Mooneyham, B.W., Mrazek, M.D., Mrazek, A.J. et al. An Integrated Assessment of Changes in Brain Structure and Function of the Insula Resulting from an Intensive Mindfulness-Based Intervention. J Cogn Enhanc 1, 327–336 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-017-0034-3

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Keywords

  • Mindfulness
  • Insula
  • Cortical thickness
  • Functional connectivity
  • Ventrolateral prefrontal cortex