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Mindfulness and dynamic functional neural connectivity in children and adolescents

By Hilary A Marusak, Moriah E Thomason, Farrah Elrahal, Craig A Peters, Prantik Kundu, Michael V. Lombardo, V. D. Calhoun, Elimelech K Goldberg, Cindy Cohen, Jeffrey W Taub, Christine A Rabinak

Posted 04 Feb 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/106021 (published DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2017.09.010)

Background: Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, present-centered awareness and acceptance of one's thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Interventions that promote mindfulness consistently show salutatory effects on cognition and psychological wellbeing in adults, and more recently, in children. Understanding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying mindfulness in children may allow for more judicious application of these techniques in clinical and educational settings. Methods: Using multi-echo/multi-band fMRI, we measured resting-state connectivity and tested the hypothesis that the association between mindfulness and anxiety in children (N=42) will relate to static and dynamic interactions between large-scale neural networks considered central to neurocognitive functioning and implicated in mindfulness in adults (default mode [DMN], salience and emotion [SEN], and central executive networks [CEN]). Results: Mindfulness was related to dynamic but not static connectivity in children. Specifically, more mindful children transitioned more between brain states over the course of the scan, spent overall less time in a certain connectivity state (state 2), and showed a state-specific reduction in SEN-right CEN connectivity (state 4). Results of a separate measure of present-focused thought during the resting-state were consistent with these results, suggesting state-trait convergence. Finally, the number of state transitions mediated the link between higher mindfulness and lower anxiety, suggesting that flexibility in transitioning between neural states may bridge the well-established link between mindfulness and anxiety in children. Conclusions: Results provide new insights into neural mechanisms underlying benefits of mindfulness on psychological health in children, and suggest that mindfulness relates to functional neural dynamics and interactions between neurocognitive networks, over time.

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