Objective: 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.
Methods: Thirty-five adults with elevated levels of psychological distress participated in a 3 day RCT of intensive mindfulness meditation or relaxation training. Participants completed a resting state fMRI 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.
Results: Left dlPFC showed increased connectivity to the right inferior frontal gyrus (T = 3.74), right middle frontal gyrus (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<0.05) following mindfulness training relative to the relaxation control. Right dlPFC showed increased connectivity to right middle frontal gyrus (T = 4.97, p < 0.05).
Conclusions: 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 amongst 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.
Trial Registration: Clinicaltrials.gov (#NCT01628809)
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