Mindfulness meditation-based pain relief employs different neural mechanisms than placebo and sham mindfulness meditation-induced analgesia

Fadel Zeidan, Nichole M. Emerson, Suzan R. Farris, Jenna N. Ray, Youngkyoo Jung, John G. McHaffie, Robert C. Coghill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

94 Scopus citations

Abstract

Mindfulness meditation reduces pain in experimental and clinical settings. However, it remains unknown whether mindfulness meditation engages pain-relieving mechanisms other than those associated with the placebo effect (e.g., conditioning, psychosocial context, beliefs). To determine whether the analgesic mechanisms of mindfulness meditation are different from placebo,werandomly assigned 75 healthy, human volunteers to 4 d of the following: (1) mindfulness meditation, (2) placebo conditioning, (3) sham mindfulness meditation, or (4) book-listening control intervention. We assessed intervention efficacy using psychophysical evaluation of experimental pain and functional neuroimaging. Importantly, all cognitive manipulations (i.e., mindfulness meditation, placebo conditioning, sham mindfulness meditation) significantly attenuated pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings when compared to rest and the control condition (p=0.05). Mindfulness meditation reduced pain intensity (p=0.032) and pain unpleasantness (p<0.001) ratings more than placebo analgesia. Mindfulness meditation also reduced pain intensity (p=0.030) and pain unpleasantness (p=0.043) ratings more than sham mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness-meditation-related pain relief was associated with greater activation in brain regions associated with the cognitive modulation of pain, including the orbitofrontal, subgenual anterior cingulate, and anterior insular cortex. In contrast, placebo analgesia was associated with activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and deactivation of sensory processing regions (secondary somatosensory cortex). Sham mindfulness meditation-induced analgesia was not correlated with significant neural activity, but rather by greater reductions in respiration rate. This study is the first to demonstrate that mindfulness-related pain relief is mechanistically distinct from placebo analgesia. The elucidation of this distinction confirms the existence of multiple, cognitively driven, supraspinal mechanisms for pain modulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15307-15325
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Volume35
Issue number46
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 18 2015
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Arterial spin labeling
  • FMRI
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Pain
  • Placebo
  • Psychophysics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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