Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA, Warfighter Performance Department, Navel Health Research Center, San Diego, CA, USA.
Neuroimaging studies of mindfulness training (MT) modulate anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and insula among other brain regions, which are important for attentional control, emotional regulation and interoception. Inspiratory breathing load (IBL) is an experimental approach to examine how an individual responds to an aversive stimulus. Military personnel are at increased risk for cognitive, emotional and physiological compromise as a consequence of prolonged exposure to stressful environments and, therefore, may benefit from MT. This study investigated whether MT modulates neural processing of interoceptive distress in infantry marines scheduled to undergo pre-deployment training and deployment to Afghanistan. Marines were divided into two groups: individuals who received training as usual (control) and individuals who received an additional 20-h mindfulness-based mind fitness training (MMFT). All subjects completed an IBL task during functional magnetic resonance imaging at baseline and post-MMFT training. Marines who underwent MMFT relative to controls demonstrated a significant attenuation of right anterior insula and ACC during the experience of loaded breathing. These results support the hypothesis that MT changes brain activation such that individuals process more effectively an aversive interoceptive stimulus. Thus, MT may serve as a training technique to modulate the brain's response to negative interoceptive stimuli, which may help to improve resilience.