Mindfulness meditation training has been previously shown to enhance behavioral measures of executive control (e.g., attention, working memory, cognitive control), but the neural mechanisms underlying these improvements are largely unknown. Here, we test whether mindfulness training interventions foster executive control by strengthening functional connections between dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC)-a hub of the executive control network-and frontoparietal regions that coordinate executive function.
Thirty-five adults with elevated levels of psychological distress participated in a 3-day randomized controlled trial of intensive mindfulness meditation or relaxation training. Participants completed a resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging scan before and after the intervention. We tested whether mindfulness meditation training increased resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) between dlPFC and frontoparietal control network regions.
Left dlPFC showed increased connectivity to the right inferior frontal gyrus (T = 3.74), right middle frontal gyrus (MFG) (T = 3.98), right supplementary eye field (T = 4.29), right parietal cortex (T = 4.44), and left middle temporal gyrus (T = 3.97, all p < .05) after mindfulness training relative to the relaxation control. Right dlPFC showed increased connectivity to right MFG (T = 4.97, p < .05).
We report that mindfulness training increases rsFC between dlPFC and dorsal network (superior parietal lobule, supplementary eye field, MFG) and ventral network (right IFG, middle temporal/angular gyrus) regions. These findings extend previous work showing increased functional connectivity among brain regions associated with executive function during active meditation by identifying specific neural circuits in which rsFC is enhanced by a mindfulness intervention in individuals with high levels of psychological distress.
The amygdala, a small deep brain structure involved in behavioral processing through interactions with other brain regions, has garnered increased attention in recent years in relation to pain processing. As pain is a multidimensional experience that encompasses physical sensation, affect, and cognition, the amygdala is well suited to play a part in this process. Multiple neuroimaging studies of pain in humans have reported activation in the amygdala. Here we summarize these studies by performing a coordinate-based meta-analysis within experimentally induced and clinical pain studies using an activation likelihood estimate analysis. The results are presented in relation to locations of peak activation within and outside of amygdala subregions. The majority of studies identified coordinates consistent with human amygdala cytoarchitecture indicating reproducibility in neuroanatomical labeling across labs, analysis methods, and imaging modalities. Differences were noted between healthy and clinical pain studies: in clinical pain studies, peak activation was located in the laterobasal region, suggestive of the cognitive-affective overlay present among individuals suffering from chronic pain; while the less understood superficial region of the amygdala was prominent among experimental pain studies. Taken together, these findings suggest several important directions for further research exploring the amygdala’s role in pain processing.