The role of hippocampus in context-dependent recall of extinction is well recognized. However, little is known about how intervention-induced changes in hippocampal networks relate to improvements in extinction learning. In this study, we hypothesized that mindfulness training creates an optimal exposure condition by heightening attention and awareness of present moment sensory experience, leading to enhanced extinction learning, improved emotion regulation, and reduced anxiety symptoms.
We tested this hypothesis in a randomized controlled longitudinal study design using a 2-day fear conditioning and extinction protocol. The mindfulness training group included 42 participants (28 female) and the control group included 25 participants (15 female).
We show that mindfulness training is associated with differential engagement of the right supramarginal gyrus as well as hippocampal-cortical reorganization. We also report enhanced hippocampal connectivity to primary sensory cortex during retrieval of extinguished stimuli following mindfulness training.
These findings suggest hippocampal dependent changes in contextual retrieval as one plausible neural mechanism through which mindfulness-based interventions enhance fear extinction and foster stress resilience.