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. 2013;8(3):e58476.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058476. Epub 2013 Mar 25.

Brain Changes in Long-Term Zen Meditators Using Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy and Diffusion Tensor Imaging: A Controlled Study

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Free PMC article

Brain Changes in Long-Term Zen Meditators Using Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy and Diffusion Tensor Imaging: A Controlled Study

Nicolás Fayed et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Introduction: This work aimed to determine whether (1)H magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) are correlated with years of meditation and psychological variables in long-term Zen meditators compared to healthy non-meditator controls.

Materials and methods: Design. Controlled, cross-sectional study. Sample. Meditators were recruited from a Zen Buddhist monastery. The control group was recruited from hospital staff. Meditators were administered questionnaires on anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment and mindfulness. (1)H-MRS (1.5 T) of the brain was carried out by exploring four areas: both thalami, both hippocampi, the posterior superior parietal lobule (PSPL) and posterior cingulate gyrus. Predefined areas of the brain were measured for diffusivity (ADC) and fractional anisotropy (FA) by MR-DTI.

Results: Myo-inositol (mI) was increased in the posterior cingulate gyrus and Glutamate (Glu), N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA) and N-acetyl-aspartate/Creatine (NAA/Cr) was reduced in the left thalamus in meditators. We found a significant positive correlation between mI in the posterior cingulate and years of meditation (r = 0.518; p = .019). We also found significant negative correlations between Glu (r = -0.452; p = .045), NAA (r = -0.617; p = .003) and NAA/Cr (r = -0.448; P = .047) in the left thalamus and years of meditation. Meditators showed a lower Apparent Diffusion Coefficient (ADC) in the left posterior parietal white matter than did controls, and the ADC was negatively correlated with years of meditation (r = -0.4850, p = .0066).

Conclusions: The results are consistent with the view that mI, Glu and NAA are the most important altered metabolites. This study provides evidence of subtle abnormalities in neuronal function in regions of the white matter in meditators.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1. Voxel placement in the different brain regions.
The thalamus (a,b), hippocampus (c,d), posterior superior parietal lobule (e) and posterior cingulate gyrus (f).
Figure 2
Figure 2. Representative left thalamus spectrum.
The narrow line width indicates excellent data quality and the uniform residual represents excellent model fit. NAA: N-acetyl-aspartate; Glx: glutamate+glutamine+GABA; Cho: Choline; Cr: creatine+phosphocholine; mI: myo-inositol.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Axial diffusion images showing the different locations of the equal-sized regions of interest (ROIs) were placed in normal appearing brain parenchyma.
The ROI placements for periaqueductal grey (1) and amygdale (2) (a); orbital cortex (2) and insular cortex (3) (b); internal capsule (5), thalamus ventral (6) and dorsal (7), (c); cingulate gyrus cortex (16) and corpus callosum (8), (d); frontal white matter (4), parietal white matter (5), and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (6) (e); and left motor cortex (7) (f).
Figure 4
Figure 4. Differences on Myo-Inositol levels in Posterior Cingulate between meditators and healthy non-meditators.
Figure 5
Figure 5. Differences on Glutamate levels in Left Thalamus between meditators and healthy non-meditators.
Figure 6
Figure 6. Differences on NAA levels in Left Thalamus between meditators and healthy non-meditators.
Figure 7
Figure 7. Differences on NAA/Creatine in in Left Thalamus between meditators and healthy non-meditators.

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