Brain-Mind-Body Interactions Affinity Group

Mission and Goals:

This Affinity Group will enable investigators across the campus to coalesce towards preparation of a new T32 post-doctoral training program application to be submitted to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). There is currently no such training program that exists on the UCLA campus, and development and funding of such an interdisciplinary, translational program will fill an important gap in our institute’s research training mission. In addition, such a T32 on brain-mind-body interactions would facilitate the recruitment of an increasing number of diverse and highly talented post-doctoral neuroscientists, psychologists, and psychiatrists who are interested in understanding the neural basis of mind-body approaches.

Why is it important to understand the neural basis of mind-body interactions?

Approximately 19 percent of adults in America report use of mind-body therapies. Substantial evidence has been generated to show that mind-body practices, such as meditation and/or practices that incorporate meditation components (e.g., tai chi, yoga), enhance quality of life, reduce psychological stress, and improve mental health outcomes. However, it is not possible for the field to forecast the impact of mind-body strategies on other tangible health outcomes without basic information on neural and other biologically plausible mechanisms that may drive these benefits. In other words, if mind-body strategies are to be translated into large-scale efficacy trials, proposed outcomes and possible mechanisms of action need to be delineated. A training program in brain-mind-body research would provide an important first step in this direction for research and research training at UCLA.

Proposed training objectives to be delineated by the Affinity Group

A mind-body research training program focused on the impact of meditation practices would study the impact of practices such as mindfulness meditation or the meditation components of tai chi or yoga on underlying neural pathways and quality of life, including symptom measures, such as depressive affect or, chronic pain. Meditation is thought to impact biologically plausible mechanisms, and foundational research in this area would have a large impact on discovery of prevention approaches and possible treatment for a number of highly prevalent stress-related conditions including, for example, cardiovascular disease, depression, and metabolic syndrome. Research conducted by investigators at UCLA has provided some evidence that these treatments have effects on stress response pathways (i.e., autonomic functioning, emotion regulation), but this research has not been integrally connected to understanding the neural processes that drive these proximal mediators of benefit. Furthermore, there is considerable individual variability in such biological responses, and it is not known whether genomic vulnerabilities and/or varying neural responses drive individual differences, which may ultimately predict clinical outcomes. A research training program at UCLA would address these important gaps by facilitating linkage with rich infrastructure- and personnel resources in neuroimaging including both availabilities in fMRI and PET, as well as interactions with collaborators in genomics and bioinformatics.

Unique opportunities at UCLA for a brain-mind-body research training program

The unique opportunities at UCLA to bridge across disciplines and include each of the areas, neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, neuroimaging, immunobiology, and genomics, are critical for the success of achieving an integrated understanding of the range of neural and biological effects of meditation or meditation practices that drive clinical benefit.


This Affinity Group in Brain-Mind-Body interactions will be foundational in coalescing a “critical mass” of investigators who represent several disciplinary areas linked to the proposed research training program. The team will build upon and substantially extend the interdisciplinary breadth and reach of individual research and research training programs that are currently underway at UCLA. Given the breadth of mind-body research being conducted at UCLA, it is anticipated that at least 12 senior investigators would participate in this affinity group and serve as the founding faculty for the proposed training program. Given that this training will be relatively small, collaborations with other UCLA investigators will be of utmost importance for building a successful program in the long term. In sum, the Brain-Mind-Body Interactions Affinity Group will be a first step toward the successful completion of these needed research and training objectives.

Affinity Group Participants:

Michael R. Irwin, M.D., Affinity Group Leader

Deborah L. Ackerman, M.S., Ph.D.

Marc Cohen, Ph.D.

Edwin L. Cooper, Ph.D., Sc.D.

Michael S. Goldstein, Ph.D.

Gail Greendale, M.D.

David Heber, M.D., Ph.D.

Ka-Kit Hui, M.D.,

Helen Lavretsky, M.D.

Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D.

Edythe D. London, Ph.D.

Emeran Mayer, M.D.

Hector Myers, Ph.D.

Bruce D. Naliboff, Ph.D.

Perry M. Nicassio, Ph.D.

Mark H. Rapaport, M.D.

David Shapiro, Ph.D.

Susan L. Smalley, Ph.D.

Arthur Toga, Ph.D.

James A. Waschek, Ph.D.

Lonnie K. Zeltzer, M.D.

How to Join

Michael R. Irwin, M.D.
Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences
Director, Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology