Mindfulness meditation training interventions have been shown to improve markers of health, but the underlying neurobiological mechanisms are not known. Building on initial cross-sectional research showing that mindfulness meditation may increase default mode network (DMN) resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) with regions important in top-down executive control (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [dlPFC]), here we test whether mindfulness meditation training increases DMN-dlPFC rsFC and whether these rsFC alterations prospectively explain improvements in interleukin (IL)-6 in a randomized controlled trial.
Stressed job-seeking unemployed community adults (n = 35) were randomized to either a 3-day intensive residential mindfulness meditation or relaxation training program. Participants completed a 5-minute resting-state scan before and after the intervention program. Participants also provided blood samples at preintervention and at 4-month follow-up, which were assayed for circulating IL-6, a biomarker of systemic inflammation.
We tested for alterations in DMN rsFC using a posterior cingulate cortex seed-based analysis and found that mindfulness meditation training, and not relaxation training, increased posterior cingulate cortex rsFC with left dlPFC (p < .05, corrected). These pretraining to posttraining alterations in posterior cingulate cortex-dlPFC rsFC statistically mediated mindfulness meditation training improvements in IL-6 at 4-month follow-up. Specifically, these alterations in rsFC statistically explained 30% of the overall mindfulness meditation training effects on IL-6 at follow-up.
These findings provide the first evidence that mindfulness meditation training functionally couples the DMN with a region known to be important in top-down executive control at rest (left dlPFC), which, in turn, is associated with improvements in a marker of inflammatory disease risk.
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