Does Neuroimaging Provide Evidence of Meditation-Mediated Neuroplasticity?
Results of recent magnetic resonance imaging studies suggest that meditation may be associated with region-specific structural neuroplasticity. To test the hypothesis that meditation-related brain function predicts site-specific structural changes in meditators, we conducted two meta-analyses: one of studies localizing brain activity during meditation, and a second of studies measuring differences in brain structure between meditators and non-meditators. Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) meta-analysis of five studies measuring brain activation during meditation revealed the greatest clusters of activity to be in the left frontal cortex and left precuneus. ALE of four studies measuring the differences in brain structure between meditators and controls revealed that meditators tended to have greater brain volume in the left inferior temporal gyrus. Thus, brain activity during meditation did not predict region-specific structural differences between meditators and non-meditators. This finding may reflect recognized limitations in neuroimaging methodology rather than the refutability of the hypothesis itself. Future efforts aimed at understanding the relationship between brain activity and structural changes in the brain should focus on improving neuroimaging experimental design and incorporating evidence from other branches of neurocognitive science. Progress in these areas promises to elucidate the connection between mind-body practices, and brain structure and function.
Many thanks to Angela Laird, PhD, University of Texas, San Antonio and her staff for support in the use of GingerALE and Mango; Allison Rollins, Librarian, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) for assistance in our literature search; and to Wayne Jonas, MD, and Joan Walter of The Samueli Institute, as well as Roger Gibson DVM, Tomoko Hooper, MD, Cara Olsen, PhD, and Daniel Burnett, MD, of USUHS for their support and direction in this project. This work is supported by Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences under Contract No MDA 905-03-C-0003. The views, opinions and/or findings contained in this report are those of the author(s) and should not be construed as an official USU position, policy or decision unless so designated by other documentation.
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