Diminished Age-related Decline of the Amygdala in Long-term Meditation Practitioners

Author: Eileen Luders1, Felipe A Jain, Florian Kurth
1 1School of Psychology, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand 2Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA 3Depression Clinical and Research Program, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA.
Conference/Journal: Psychosom Med
Date published: 2021 Jan 19
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000913. , Word Count: 227

A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that meditation may slow brain aging. The amygdala - a heterogenous brain region known to decrease in volume with increasing age - seems to be involved in meditation as well as affected by meditation. Thus, we hypothesized that the age-related decline of the amygdala is diminished in meditation practitioners.

We investigated whether correlations between age and gray matter volumes of the amygdala are significantly reduced in 50 long-term meditators compared to 50 sex- and age-matched healthy controls. Both meditator and control groups included 44% women. The age of the participants ranged between 24 and 77 years of age, with a mean age of 50.4 (±11.8) years in meditators, and 51.4 (±12.8) years in controls. In addition to studying the amygdala as a whole, we investigated its centromedial, laterobasal, and superficial subregions using a well-validated approach combining imaging-based signal intensities and cytoarchitectonically defined probabilities.

We detected significant group-by-age interactions for the whole amygdala as well as for its subregions. Follow-up analyses indicated negative age-related correlations in both meditators and controls (the older the participants, the smaller the volumes) but with significantly steeper aging trajectories in controls.

Altogether, these findings suggest that the age-related volume loss of the amygdala is less pronounced in long-term meditators. This effect was particularly evident for the laterobasal subregion, which has been functionally linked to aspects of self-focused reflection.

PMID: 33856149 DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000913