Mindfulness-based real-time fMRI neurofeedback: a randomized controlled trial to optimize dosing for depressed adolescents

BMC Psychiatry. 2023 Oct 17;23(1):757. doi: 10.1186/s12888-023-05223-8.


Background: Adolescence is characterized by a heightened vulnerability for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) onset, and currently, treatments are only effective for roughly half of adolescents with MDD. Accordingly, novel interventions are urgently needed. This study aims to establish mindfulness-based real-time fMRI neurofeedback (mbNF) as a non-invasive approach to downregulate the default mode network (DMN) in order to decrease ruminatory processes and depressive symptoms.

Methods: Adolescents (N = 90) with a current diagnosis of MDD ages 13-18-years-old will be randomized in a parallel group, two-arm, superiority trial to receive either 15 or 30 min of mbNF with a 1:1 allocation ratio. Real-time neurofeedback based on activation of the frontoparietal network (FPN) relative to the DMN will be displayed to participants via the movement of a ball on a computer screen while participants practice mindfulness in the scanner. We hypothesize that within-DMN (medial prefrontal cortex [mPFC] with posterior cingulate cortex [PCC]) functional connectivity will be reduced following mbNF (Aim 1: Target Engagement). Additionally, we hypothesize that participants in the 30-min mbNF condition will show greater reductions in within-DMN functional connectivity (Aim 2: Dosing Impact on Target Engagement). Aim 1 will analyze data from all participants as a single-group, and Aim 2 will leverage the randomized assignment to analyze data as a parallel-group trial. Secondary analyses will probe changes in depressive symptoms and rumination.

Discussion: Results of this study will determine whether mbNF reduces functional connectivity within the DMN among adolescents with MDD, and critically, will identify the optimal dosing with respect to DMN modulation as well as reduction in depressive symptoms and rumination.

Trial registration: This study has been registered with clinicaltrials.gov, most recently updated on July 6, 2023 (trial identifier: NCT05617495).

Keywords: Adolescence; DMN; FPN; MDD; Mindfulness; Real-time fMRI neurofeedback.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / diagnostic imaging
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / therapy
  • Gyrus Cinguli / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Mindfulness*
  • Neurofeedback* / methods

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT05617495