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Acupuncture modulates the limbic system and subcortical gray structures of the human brain: Evidence from fMRI studies in normal subjects

Authors

  • Kathleen K.S. Hui,

    Corresponding author
    1. MGH-NMR Center, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. East-West Immune Institute, Waltham, Massachusetts
    • MGH-NMR Center, Department of Radiology, CNY 2, 149 13th Street, Charlestown, MA 02129.
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  • Jing Liu,

    1. East-West Immune Institute, Waltham, Massachusetts
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  • Nikos Makris,

    1. Center for Morphometric Analysis, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Randy L. Gollub,

    1. MGH-NMR Center, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Anthony J.W. Chen,

    1. MGH-NMR Center, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Christopher I. Moore,

    1. MGH-NMR Center, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • David N. Kennedy,

    1. Center for Morphometric Analysis, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Bruce R. Rosen,

    1. MGH-NMR Center, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Kenneth K. Kwong

    1. MGH-NMR Center, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Acupuncture, an ancient therapeutic technique, is emerging as an important modality of complementary medicine in the United States. The use and efficacy of acupuncture treatment are not yet widely accepted in Western scientific and medical communities. Demonstration of regionally specific, quantifiable acupuncture effects on relevant structures of the human brain would facilitate acceptance and integration of this therapeutic modality into the practice of modern medicine. Research with animal models of acupuncture indicates that many of the beneficial effects may be mediated at the subcortical level in the brain. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the effects of acupuncture in normal subjects and to provide a foundation for future studies on mechanisms of acupuncture action in therapeutic interventions. Acupuncture needle manipulation was performed at Large Intestine 4 (LI 4, Hegu) on the hand in 13 subjects [Stux, 1997]. Needle manipulation on either hand produced prominent decreases of fMRI signals in the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, parahippocampus, hypothalamus, ventral tegmental area, anterior cingulate gyrus (BA 24), caudate, putamen, temporal pole, and insula in all 11 subjects who experienced acupuncture sensation. In marked contrast, signal increases were observed primarily in the somatosensory cortex. The two subjects who experienced pain instead of acupuncture sensation exhibited signal increases instead of decreases in the anterior cingulate gyrus (BA 24), caudate, putamen, anterior thalamus, and posterior insula. Superficial tactile stimulation to the same area elicited signal increases in the somatosensory cortex as expected, but no signal decreases in the deep structures. These preliminary results suggest that acupuncture needle manipulation modulates the activity of the limbic system and subcortical structures. We hypothesize that modulation of subcortical structures may be an important mechanism by which acupuncture exerts its complex multisystem effects. Hum Brain Mapp 9:13–25, 2000. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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