Background: The practice of meditation has been shown to improve pain-related quality of life and also to alter brain activity. To assess brain volumetry in fibromyalgia (FM) patients, healthy meditators and healthy non-meditator control groups, and to elucidate the possible association between brain changes in meditators and years of meditation practice.
Methods: Twelve patients diagnosed with FM, eleven long-term Zen meditators and ten healthy control subjects closely matched for sex and age were recruited. A high resolution T1-3D sequence was acquired and a high-dimensional DARTEL normalization strategy was applied. Questionnaires on anxiety, depression and cognitive impairment were administered.
Results: There was a statistically significant increase in grey matter volume in the Brodmann area 20 (right and left inferior temporal gyri) in patients with fibromyalgia and a significant decrease in the meditator group as compared to controls. On the other hand, there was a significant increase in grey matter volume in fibromyalgia patients as compared to controls and meditators, to the right temporal gyrus (p=0.03, t=6.85) and left temporal gyrus (p=0.04, t=6.31). The number of months of meditation did not correlate with significant grey matter volume changes in the meditator group.
Conclusions: FM and meditation appears to be reliably associated with altered anatomical structure in the Brodmann area 20 (in both inferior temporal gyri), and these changes are associated with anxiety and depression levels. In addition, exploratory morphometric analyses for fibromyalgia patients and meditators may reveal relevant brain regions showing structural diminution in meditation practitioners. Morphologic changes might predispose toward vulnerability to develop a chronic pain state. Such structural diminutions could potentially indicate functional benefits.