Neural Mechanisms of Mindfulness

Zeidan F et al. “Neural mechanisms supporting the relationship b/w dispositional mindfulness and pain.” Pain 2018
  • Previous studies have found that mindfulness meditation helps reduce pain through a non-evaluative attentional stance towards painful sensations, evidenced by greater processing in the primary somatosensory cortex and reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex during heat stimulation. 
  • People who exhibit lower levels of mindfulness have a higher susceptibility towards rumination and catastrophization while individuals with higher levels of mindfulness demonstrate improved ability to self-regulate, engage in acceptance-based strategies during a painful experience, and report lower pain across a number of chronic pain populations. 
  • In this study, the authors examined cerebral blood flow using perfusion MRI and a relatively large sample size to determine if higher levels of mindfulness is associated with lower pain sensitivity reports and greater deactivation of the DMN.
  • 76 participants underwent 2 separate MRI sessions before and after 4 intervention sessions
  • When controlling for age and gender, higher mindfulness ratings were significantly associated with lower pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings. 
  • When compared to neutral stimulation, noxious heat stimulation produced activation in the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) corresponding to the stimulation site, PAG, bilateral thalamus, bilateral secondary somatosensory cortices (SII), supplementary motor area (SMA), anterior and posterior insula, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and deactivation of the PCC, precuneus, bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and medial prefrontal cortex. 
  • Higher FMI ratings were associated with greater deactivation of a brain region extending from the precuneus to the dorsal PCC and ipsilateral S1 during noxious heat stimulation. Greater cerebral blood flow in the dPCC was significantly associated with higher pain unpleasantness and lower FMI ratings. 
  • This study is the first to show that higher levels of mindfulness, even in people not previously exposed to meditation, display less pain in response to noxious stimuli while simultaneously displaying reduced activity in brain regions associated with the default mode network