Meditation effects within the hippocampal complex revealed by voxel-based morphometry and cytoarchitectonic probabilistic mapping

Front Psychol. 2013 Jul 9:4:398. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00398. eCollection 2013.


Scientific studies addressing anatomical variations in meditators' brains have emerged rapidly over the last few years, where significant links are most frequently reported with respect to gray matter (GM). To advance prior work, this study examined GM characteristics in a large sample of 100 subjects (50 meditators, 50 controls), where meditators have been practicing close to 20 years, on average. A standard, whole-brain voxel-based morphometry approach was applied and revealed significant meditation effects in the vicinity of the hippocampus, showing more GM in meditators than in controls as well as positive correlations with the number of years practiced. However, the hippocampal complex is regionally segregated by architecture, connectivity, and functional relevance. Thus, to establish differential effects within the hippocampal formation (cornu ammonis, fascia dentata, entorhinal cortex, subiculum) as well as the hippocampal-amygdaloid transition area, we utilized refined cytoarchitectonic probabilistic maps of (peri-) hippocampal subsections. Significant meditation effects were observed within the subiculum specifically. Since the subiculum is known to play a key role in stress regulation and meditation is an established form of stress reduction, these GM findings may reflect neuronal preservation in long-term meditators-perhaps due to an attenuated release of stress hormones and decreased neurotoxicity.

Keywords: MRI; VBM; cytoarchitectonics; hippocampus; mapping; meditation; mindfulness; subiculum.