Previous research indicates that long-term meditation practice is associated with altered resting electroencephalogram patterns, suggestive of long lasting changes in brain activity. We hypothesized that meditation practice might also be associated with changes in the brain's physical structure. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to assess cortical thickness in 20 participants with extensive Insight meditation experience, which involves focused attention to internal experiences. Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula. Between-group differences in prefrontal cortical thickness were most pronounced in older participants, suggesting that meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning. Finally, the thickness of two regions correlated with meditation experience. These data provide the first structural evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice.
aPsychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital
bOsher Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
cDepartment of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
dAthinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
eGraduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge
fMind/Body Medical Institute, Chestnut Hill
gDepartment of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston
hDepartment of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
iMcGovern Institute for Brain Research and
jComputer Science and AI Lab (CSAIL), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Correspondence and requests for reprints to Sara W. Lazar, PhD, Room 2609, 149 13th St. Charlestown, MA 02129, USA
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Sponsorship: This work was supported by NIH/NCCAM K01AT00694-01, NCRR (P41RR14075), the MIND Institute, and CDC Grants H75/CCH119124 and H75/CCH 123424. C.K. was supported by Grant R21AT002860-02.
Received 26 August 2005; revised 16 September 2005; accepted 19 September 2005