bioRxiv | 2019
Studying the precuneus reveals structure-function-affect correlation in long-term meditators
Understanding the relationship between brain structure, function and self-reports has hardly been addressed until now in meditation research. Here we demonstrate such relationship, using Mindfulness meditation (MM). MM aims to reduce thought-related processes and enhance bodily awareness, thereby reducing identification with thought content and deconstructing maladaptive self-schema. We thus hypothesized that structure of the default mode network (DMN) regions, associated with spontaneous thoughts and self-representation, would negatively correlate with MM experience and self-reported positive affect, while positively correlating with DMN resting-state function. Cross-sectionally comparing a unique group of adept MM practitioners and meditation-naïve matched controls using voxel based morphometry revealed that gray matter (GM) density of the left precuneus (L-Prc) was negatively correlated with MM expertise. Furthermore, GM density of the L-Prc was positively correlated with resting state and task related functional (fMRI) measures within the L-Prc in the MM practitioners, but not in the controls. Finally, the L-Prc’s GM density negatively correlated with positive affect across all participants. Our findings may shed light on understanding structure-function-self reports relationship. While our approach enables studying suggestive correlations in expert MM practitioners, longitudinal studies are required for direct insights concerning the question of causality. Significance statement Understanding the relationship between brain structure and function, individual differences and self-reports, is an important goal of neuroscience. Yet, these factors were hardly investigated together in meditation research. The precuneus is part of the default mode network (DMN) involved in thought related processes. Mindfulness meditation (MM) is a mental practice aiming to reduce thought related processes. Here, by cross-sectionally comparing adept meditators and controls, we found that in the precuneus of MM practitioners, structure associated with function. Overall, structure negatively correlated with practice length, as well as with positive affect scores. The structure-function correlation was only significant in the meditators group, possibly implying that prolonged meditation improved structure and function attunement in the DMN. More generally, this study demonstrates that mental practice can be related to conjoint structural and functional effects, as well as to affective self-reports.