• acupuncture;
  • acupuncture mechanism;
  • stress-induced hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis;
  • broad-sense hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal axis;
  • neuroimmunology;
  • functional brain imaging

Objectives –  Athough acupuncture therapy has demonstrated itself to be effective in several clinical areas, the underlying mechanisms of acupuncture in general and the analgesic effect in particular are, however, still not clearly delineated. We, therefore, have studied acupuncture analgesic effect through fMRI and proposed a hypothesis, based on the obtained result, which will enlighten the central role of the brain in acupuncture therapy.

Methods –  The proposed model, termed as a broad sense hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (BS-HPA) axis, was based on our observed neuroimaging results. The model incorporates the stress-induced HPA axis model together with neuro-immune interaction including the cholinergic anti-inflammatory model.

Results –  The obtained results coupled with accumulating evidence suggest that the central nervous system is essential for the processing of these effects via its modulation of the autonomic nervous system, neuroimmune system and hormonal regulation.

Conclusions –  Based on our fMRI study, it appears that understanding the effects of acupuncture within a neuroscience-based framework is vital. Further, we have proposed the broad sense-HPA axis hypothesis which incorporates the experimental results.