Effect of Mindfulness Versus Loving-kindness Training on Leukocyte Gene Expression in Midlife Adults Raised in Low-Socioeconomic Status Households

Author: Taylor N West1, Jieni Zhou1, Mary M Brantley2, Sumi L Kim3, Jeffrey Brantley2,4, Sharon Salzberg5, Steve W Cole6, Barbara L Fredrickson1
1 Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB #3270, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599, USA.
2 Duke Integrative Medicine, Duke University, Durham , NC, USA.
3 Chaplain's Office, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.
4 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.
5 Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA, USA.
6 Department of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.
Conference/Journal: Mindfulness (N Y)
Date published: 2022 May 1
Other: Volume ID: 13 , Issue ID: 5 , Pages: 1185-1196 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1007/s12671-022-01857-z. , Word Count: 275

People raised in low socio-economic status (SES) households are at an increased risk for physical illness in adulthood. A shift in gene expression profiles in the immune system is one biological mechanism thought to account for elevated disease susceptibility, with a frequently-investigated profile being the conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA), characterized by increased expression of proinflammatory genes and decreased expression of antiviral and antibody-related genes.

The present study investigated, in a sample of at-risk midlife adults (N = 88), whether those randomized to learn loving-kindness meditation (LKM) in a 6-week workshop, would show a reduction in CTRA gene expression, compared to those randomized to learn mindfulness meditation (MM). We assessed emotions daily and hypothesized positive emotions to account for the expected effect of LKM on gene expression.

Results showed significant group differences from pre- to post-intervention, yet in the opposite direction as hypothesized: Participants randomized to the MM group showed significant declines in CTRA gene expression, whereas those in the LKM group showed significant increases in CTRA gene expression. Both groups showed increases over the 6 weeks in daily reports of positive emotions, b=.007, p <.001 alongside decreases in negative emotions b=-.005, p <.001. Thus, positive emotions were not pursued as a candidate mediator of observed group effects.

This study is the first to examine whether the biological impact of childhood low-SES can be reversed in mid-life through meditation interventions. Results suggest mindfulness meditation may be a viable option for improving health outcomes in this at-risk population. Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02400593.

Keywords: CTRA; SES; loving-kindness; mindfulness meditation; social genomics.

PMID: 36278141 PMCID: PMC9585929 (available on 2023-05-01) DOI: 10.1007/s12671-022-01857-z