Acupuncture Continuing Education

MRI Acupuncture Research Maps Brain Network

New MRI research shows that autonomic nervous system (ANS) responses to acupuncture emanate from “distinct subregions” of “brain circuitry." A prestigious team of researchers from institutions such as MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), University of Michigan and Massachusetts General Hospital compared true acupuncture at acupoints ST36 and SP9 with sham acupuncture (non-acupoint location). True acupuncture activated the secondary somatosensory cortex (S2), insula, and the mid-cingulate cortex. The heart rate (HR) deceleration and skin conductance response (SCR) “magnitude of response was greater following real acupuncture” than with sham acupuncture.

Differential outflows of autonomic nervous system responses to acupuncture were associated with specific brain responses. Acupuncture with strong SCR causes “greater anterior insula activation” of the brain, particularly at acupoint SP9. Acupuncture stimulation producing greater deceleration of the heart rate was proportional to brain default mode network (DMN) deactivation. DMN is a network of brain areas responsible for internal processing including wakeful resting, memory recall, daydreaming and thinking about the future. ST36 had a significantly strong heart rate reduction and corresponding DMN response.

Napadow, V., Lee, J., Kim, J., Cina, S., Maeda, Y., Barbieri, R., Harris, R. E., Kettner, N. and Park, K. (2012), Brain correlates of phasic autonomic response to acupuncture stimulation: An event-related fMRI study. Hum. Brain Mapp.. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22091 .
Author Information:
Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, Massachusetts.
Department of Radiology, Logan College of Chiropractic, Chesterfield, Missouri.
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Kyung Hee University, Yongin, Republic of Korea.
Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.
Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Department of Anesthesiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.