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. 2010 Mar;5(1):11-7.
doi: 10.1093/scan/nsp034. Epub 2009 Sep 23.

Stress Reduction Correlates With Structural Changes in the Amygdala

Free PMC article

Stress Reduction Correlates With Structural Changes in the Amygdala

Britta K Hölzel et al. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. .
Free PMC article


Stress has significant adverse effects on health and is a risk factor for many illnesses. Neurobiological studies have implicated the amygdala as a brain structure crucial in stress responses. Whereas hyperactive amygdala function is often observed during stress conditions, cross-sectional reports of differences in gray matter structure have been less consistent. We conducted a longitudinal MRI study to investigate the relationship between changes in perceived stress with changes in amygdala gray matter density following a stress-reduction intervention. Stressed but otherwise healthy individuals (N = 26) participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention. Perceived stress was rated on the perceived stress scale (PSS) and anatomical MR images were acquired pre- and post-intervention. PSS change was used as the predictive regressor for changes in gray matter density within the bilateral amygdalae. Following the intervention, participants reported significantly reduced perceived stress. Reductions in perceived stress correlated positively with decreases in right basolateral amygdala gray matter density. Whereas prior studies found gray matter modifications resulting from acquisition of abstract information, motor and language skills, this study demonstrates that neuroplastic changes are associated with improvements in a psychological state variable.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
(A–C) Location of positive correlation between gray matter density change in right amygdala and change in PSS score. Identified cluster overlaid on group-averaged sagittal (A) (x = 32) and coronal (B) (y = 0) structural image. (C) The coronal glass brain image illustrates that no other brain regions were correlated even at a liberal statistical threshold of uncorrected P < 0.01. (D) Average percent change (post-intervention minus pre-intervention) in gray matter density within the identified cluster extracted from each individual plotted against change in PSS scores. For illustrative purposes, voxel values within the identified cluster in the right amygdala were extracted and averaged using Marsbar (Brett et al., 2002), and values on the x-axis were reversed.

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