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Functional neural correlates of mindfulness meditations in comparison with psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy and placebo effect. Is there a link?

  • Alberto Chiesa (a1), Paolo Brambilla (a2) (a3) and Alessandro Serretti (a1)
Abstract

Chiesa A, Brambilla P, Serretti A. Functional neural correlates of mindfulness meditations in comparison with psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy and placebo effect. Is there a link?

Objective:

Mindfulness meditations (MM) are a group of meditation practices which are increasingly receiving attention. The aim of the present work is to review current findings about the neural correlates of MM and compare such findings with other specific and non-specific treatments.

Methods:

A literature search was undertaken using MEDLINE, ISI web of knowledge, the Cochrane database and references of retrieved articles. Studies which focused on the functional neural correlates of MM, psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy and placebo published up to August 2009 were screened in order to be considered for the inclusion.

Results:

Main findings suggest that long-term MM practice allows a more flexible emotional regulation by engaging frontal cortical structures to dampen automatic amygdala activation. A large overlap exists between cerebral areas activated during MM, psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy and those activated by placebo. However, while MM, psychotherapy and placebo seem to act through a top-down regulation, antidepressants seem to act through a bottom-up process.

Conclusion:

MM seem to target specific brain areas related to emotions and emotional regulation. Similar mechanisms have been observed also in other interventions, particularly psychotherapy.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Alberto Chiesa, MD, Institute of Psychiatry, University of Bologna, Viale Carlo Pepoli 5, 40123 Bologna, Italy. Tel: +39 051 6584233; Fax: +39 051 521030; E-mail: albertopnl@yahoo.it
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