Mindfulness training modulates value signals in ventromedial prefrontal cortex through input from insular cortex

Neuroimage. 2014 Oct 15;100:254-62. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.06.035. Epub 2014 Jun 21.


Neuroimaging research has demonstrated that ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) encodes value signals that can be modulated by top-down cognitive input such as semantic knowledge, price incentives, and monetary favors suggesting that such biases may have an identified biological basis. It has been hypothesized that mindfulness training (MT) provides one path for gaining control over such top-down influences; yet, there have been no direct tests of this hypothesis. Here, we probe the behavioral and neural effects of MT on value signals in vmPFC in a randomized longitudinal design of 8 weeks of MT on an initially naïve subject cohort. The impact of this within-subject training was assessed using two paradigms: one that employed primary rewards (fruit juice) in a simple conditioning task and another that used a well-validated art-viewing paradigm to test bias of monetary favors on preference. We show that MT behaviorally censors the top-down bias of monetary favors through a measurable influence on value signals in vmPFC. MT also modulates value signals in vmPFC to primary reward delivery. Using a separate cohort of subjects we show that 8 weeks of active control training (ACT) generates the same behavioral impact also through an effect on signals in the vmPFC. Importantly, functional connectivity analyses show that value signals in vmPFC are coupled with bilateral posterior insula in the MT groups in both paradigms, but not in the ACT groups. These results suggest that MT integrates interoceptive input from insular cortex in the context of value computations of both primary and secondary rewards.

Keywords: Insular cortex; Longitudinal design; Mindfulness training; Valuation; fMRI; vmPFC.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interoception / physiology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mindfulness* / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult