Insight meditation and telomere biology: The effects of intensive retreat and the moderating role of personality

Quinn A. Conklin, Brandon G. King, Anthony P. Zanesco, Jue Lin, Anahita B. Hamidi, Jennifer J. Pokorny, María Jesús Álvarez-López, Marta Cosín-Tomás, Colin Huang, Perla Kaliman, Elissa S. Epel, Clifford D. Saron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


A growing body of evidence suggests that meditation training may have a range of salubrious effects, including improved telomere regulation. Telomeres and the enzyme telomerase interact with a variety of molecular components to regulate cell-cycle signaling cascades, and are implicated in pathways linking psychological stress to disease. We investigated the effects of intensive meditation practice on these biomarkers by measuring changes in telomere length (TL), telomerase activity (TA), and telomere-related gene (TRG) expression during a 1-month residential Insight meditation retreat. Multilevel analyses revealed an apparent TL increase in the retreat group, compared to a group of experienced meditators, similarly comprised in age and gender, who were not on retreat. Moreover, personality traits predicted changes in TL, such that retreat participants highest in neuroticism and lowest in agreeableness demonstrated the greatest increases in TL. Changes observed in TRGs further suggest retreat-related improvements in telomere maintenance, including increases in Gar1 and HnRNPA1, which encode proteins that bind telomerase RNA and telomeric DNA. Although no group-level changes were observed in TA, retreat participants’ TA levels at post-assessment were inversely related to several indices of retreat engagement and prior meditation experience. Neuroticism also predicted variation in TA across retreat. These findings suggest that meditation training in a retreat setting may have positive effects on telomere regulation, which are moderated by individual differences in personality and meditation experience. ( #NCT03056105).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-245
Number of pages13
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - May 2018


  • Cell aging
  • Meditation
  • Neuroticism
  • Personality
  • Telomerase
  • Telomere length

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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