Meditation Experience is Associated with Increased Structural Integrity of the Pineal Gland and greater total Grey Matter maintenance

Author: Emanuele Rg Plini, Michael C Melnychuk, Paul M Dockree
Conference/Journal: medRxiv
Date published: 2024 Mar 5
Other: Pages: 2024030424303649 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1101/2024.03.04.24303649. , Word Count: 270

Growing evidence demonstrates that meditation practice supports cognitive functions including attention and interoceptive processing, and is associated with structural changes across cortical networks including prefrontal regions, and the insula. However, the extent of subcortical morphometric changes linked to meditation practice is less appreciated. A noteworthy candidate is the Pineal Gland, a key producer of melatonin, which regulates circadian rhythms that augment sleep-wake patterns, and may also provide neuroprotective benefits to offset cognitive decline. Increased melatonin levels as well as increased fMRI BOLD signal in the Pineal Gland has been observed in mediators vs. controls. However, it is not known if long-term meditators exhibit structural change in the Pineal Gland linked to lifetime duration of practice. In the current study we performed Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) analysis to investigate: 1) whether long-term meditators (LTMs) (n=14) exhibited greater Pineal Gland integrity compared to a control group (n=969), 2) a potential association between the estimated lifetime hours of meditation (ELHOM) and Pineal Gland integrity, and 3) whether LTMs show greater Grey Matter (GM) maintenance (BrainPAD) that is associated with Pineal Gland integrity. The results revealed greater Pineal Gland integrity and lower BrainPAD scores (younger brain age) in LTMs compared to controls. Exploratory analysis revealed a positive association between ELHOM and greater signal intensity in the Pineal Gland but not with GM maintenance as measured by BrainPAD score. However, greater Pineal integrity and lower BrainPAD scores were correlated in LTMs. The potential mechanisms by which meditation influences Pineal Gland function, hormonal metabolism, and GM maintenance are discussed - in particular melatonin's roles in sleep, immune response, inflammation modulation, and stem cell and neural regeneration.

PMID: 38496551 PMCID: PMC10942509 DOI: 10.1101/2024.03.04.24303649