Transcendental Meditation practitioners show reduced expression of the Conserved Transcriptional Response to Adversity

Brain Behav Immun Health. 2023 Aug 2:32:100672. doi: 10.1016/j.bbih.2023.100672. eCollection 2023 Oct.


Background and objectives: A recent exploratory study of transcriptional effects of long-term practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM) technologies found evidence for altered expression of genes associated with health and disease. In the present secondary analysis of those data, we test the more specific hypothesis that this sample of long-term practitioners shows a significant reduction in markers of the "Conserved Transcriptional Response to Adversity" (CTRA), an RNA profile characterized by up-regulated inflammation and down-regulated Type I interferon (IFN) activity.

Materials and methods: Data come from a previously published study providing genome-wide transcriptional profiles of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from healthy, 38-year practitioners of TM technologies and matched controls (n = 12, mean age 65). The current analysis specifically tests for differential expression of a previously established CTRA indicator gene score, with cross-validation by promoter-based bioinformatic analysis of CTRA-typical differences in transcription factor activity and monocyte subset cellular origins.

Results: Compared to controls, the TM group showed lower expression of a pre-specified set of CTRA indicator genes. These effects were accompanied by genome-wide indications of down-regulated pro-inflammatory transcription factor activity (NF-κB, AP-1), up-regulated activity of Interferon Response Factors (IRF) and reduced transcriptional activity of classical monocytes. Conclusions: A sample of long-term practitioners of TM showed reduced CTRA gene expression in PBMC compared to matched controls, supporting the likely value of further research to evaluate causality and specificity of this potential mechanism of health benefits in meditators.

Keywords: Consciousness; Human gene expression; Meditation; Public health; Social genomics; Stress reduction.