Take a Survey Main hall Jun 20, 2019 Main Presentation
Endogenous regulatory mechanisms of stress 14:20 - 15:00

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a robust intervention for alleviating depression and anxiety, which are common co-morbid symptoms accompanying many other conditions. Elucidating the unique and shared neural correlates of MBSR-induced depression and anxiety reductions will help optimize this intervention for individual groups. In a series of experiments, we used task-based fMRI to identify the neural correlates of MBSR-induced depression and anxiety reduction in chronic back pain patients and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Even with relatively small samples, we were able to uncover functional brain changes by implementing hypothesis-driven tasks. In both studies, depression (Beck Depression Inventory-II) showed greater improvement than anxiety (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory). Back pain patients showed additional improvement in perceived pain. In these patients, we probed MBSR-induced neural changes associated with gaining awareness to one’s socio- emotional state and found increased activation in bilateral subgenual anterior cingulate cortex and left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. Conversely, a large body of literature delineates fundamental neural differences associated with socio-emotional awareness in adults with ASD that may stem from deficits in theory of own mind. Therefore, when implementing MBSR in adults with ASD, we probed neural changes associated with non-social self-reflection. We found increased activation in middle cingulate cortex (MCC) which correlated with depression reduction. Furthermore, functional connectivity increased between MCC and somatosensory cortex, suggesting enhanced embodied cognition. In both studies, neural changes were not observed in active control groups. Continuing to uncover the neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness-induced symptom improvement holds promise for optimizing interventions such as MBSR for personalized medicine.

Arizona State University
Assistant Professor


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