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Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness

Lazar, Sara W.a; Kerr, Catherine E.b; Wasserman, Rachel H.a b; Gray, Jeremy R.c; Greve, Douglas N.d; Treadway, Michael T.a; McGarvey, Mettae; Quinn, Brian T.d; Dusek, Jeffery A.f g; Benson, Herbertf g; Rauch, Scott L.a; Moore, Christopher I.h i; Fischl, Bruced j

doi: 10.1097/01.wnr.0000186598.66243.19

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

Tel: +1 617 724 7108; fax: +1 617 726 4078; e-mail:

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

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.