Augmented Mindfulness for Resilience in Early Life

Clinical Trial ID: NCT04053582


This project aims to determine whether neurofeedback augmented mindfulness intervention increases the plasticity in brain areas affected by exposure to early life adversity in youth. The study will first establish the augmented mindfulness training protocol targeting the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) with real-time fMRI neurofeedback for use with healthy control and ELA-exposed youth. Next, in addition to ongoing data collection with healthy controls, ELA-exposed youth will be randomly assigned to either complete the neurofeedback augmented mindfulness training (AMT) or mindfulness training without neurofeedback (MT) protocols. Effect of augmented mindfulness training on state measures of mindfulness, perceived stress, and affect will be examined.

Early life adversity (ELA) is a major public health crisis that results in significant disruptions in neurobiological processes and long-term psychiatric and health consequences, yet very little is known about interventions that may prevent them and the optimal time to do so. Not only is ELA associated with earlier onset and greater severity and comorbidity of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, these individuals also evidence significantly poorer responses to psychological and pharmacological interventions when treated for these conditions. Consequently, there is a dire need to develop preventive interventions that target individuals with ELA exposure. The first step in this process is to establish malleability of neural mechanisms disrupted by ELA exposure to acute interventions. We use augmented mindfulness training, that is, a standard mindfulness training combined with real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback (rtfMRI-nf) to influence and increase the plasticity of brain areas affected by ELA, in turn affecting state changes in symptoms in youth with ELA exposure. Over the course of three years, 120 eligible youth with early life adversity or healthy controls will be recruited into the study. All healthy controls will receive AMT, and ELA-exposed youth will be randomly assigned to AMT, consisting of real-time fMRI with neurofeedback during mindfulness practice, or MT, consisting of mindfulness without real-time fMRI neurofeedback. Adolescents will complete self-report measures to assess state affective symptoms before and after scanning, receive mindfulness training and complete fMRI tasks engaging the PCC and mindfulness practice, and complete state affective questionnaires after the scan and again one week later.


Inclusion criteria: Healthy controls (n=48): - Age 13.00 - 17.99 years at time of baseline assessment - Able to validly and safely complete baseline assessments - All genders - All races ELA-exposed participants (n=72): - Age 13.00 - 17.99 years at time of baseline assessment - Able to validly and safely complete baseline assessments - All genders - All races - Endorsing 4 or more types of maltreatments on the Maltreatment and Abuse Chronology and Exposure (MACE) scale, or meeting the cutoff score on 2 or more of the 5 subscales on the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ): Sexual abuse ≥ 8 Physical abuse ≥ 8 Emotional abuse ≥ 10 Physical neglect ≥ 8 Emotional neglect ≥ 15 - Moderate levels of depression or anxiety (one standard deviation above the mean) as measured by the NIH PROMIS measures Exclusion criteria: All participants: - No biological parent or legal guardian identified to give permission for minor to participate - History of neurological disorders including seizure disorder, cerebral palsy, or other conditions requiring neurological or medical care, being managed for migraines (e.g., daily prophylactic medication, seeing a neurologist for migraines), or a diagnosis of Developmental Delay, including severe learning disorder, mental retardation, autism spectrum disorders, pervasive developmental disorder, or other conditions requiring repeated and persistent specialized education. - Current psychotic disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, substance use disorder, conduct problems (i.e., conduct or oppositional defiant disorder). - Current use of medications with major effects on brain function or blood flow (e.g., antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, ADHD medications, SSRIs, and acne medications). - MRI contraindications including: cardiac pacemaker, metal fragments in eyes/skin/body (shrapnel), aortic/aneurysm clips, prosthesis, by-pass surgery/coronary artery clips, hearing aid, heart valve replacement, shunt (ventricular or spinal), electrodes, metal plates/pins/screws/wires, or neuro/bio-stimulators (TENS unit), persons who have ever been a professional metal worker/welder, history of eye surgery/eyes washed out because of metal, vision problems uncorrectable with lenses, inability to lie still on one's back for 60-120 minutes; prior neurosurgery; tattoos or cosmetic makeup with metal dyes, unwillingness to remove body piercings, and pregnancy - Unwillingness or inability to complete any of the major aspects of the study protocol, including magnetic resonance imaging (i.e., due to claustrophobia) or behavioral assessment. However, failing to complete some individual aspects of these assessment sessions will be acceptable (i.e., being unwilling to answer individual items on some questionnaires). - Severe claustrophobia - Not fluent in English - BMI > 35 - Non-correctable vision, hearing or sensorimotor impairments, as protocol elements may not be valid - Youth planning to move to an area not within reasonable traveling distance of LIBR; knowledge at baseline that treatment completion/follow-up will not be possible - Youth appears to be high/intoxicated, or withdrawing from the effects of alcohol or drugs at time of enrollment Healthy controls: - History of or current psychiatric illness - Scoring 2 or greater on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scale, or scoring 8 or greater on one or more of the subscales on the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire - Current and persistent psychiatric illness - Current use of medications with major effects on brain function or blood flow (e.g., acne medications).

  • Start Date


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  • Sponsor

    National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)

  • Condition Name

    Adolescents With Early Life Stress

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