MRI Acupuncture Research

Contributed by Fabrice Piché

New MRI Acupuncture Research on Point


New acupuncture research concludes that, “Recent evidence
shows that stimulation of different points on the body causes distinct
responses in hemodynamic, fMRI and central neural electrophysiological
responses.” The researchers note that fMRI and laboratory studies
demonstrate unique changes within the body when specific acupuncture
points are stimulated. The study demonstrates that specific acupuncture
points have specific biophysiological effects. As a result, the
researchers suggest further research to investigate these measurable,
quantifiable and objective phenomena.

Researchers from the Department of Medicine at the University of
California, Irvine, examined the specific effects of needling different
acupuncture points as compared with stimulation of non-acupuncture
points and placebo simulated stimulation. The researchers note that “…
many well-controlled studies do support the principle of point
specificity.” They cite as example multiple studies of cardiovascular
disease and note that real acupuncture points “elicit(s) significantly
greater responses than stimulation of both non-acupoints and inactive
acupoints.” They also conclude that stimulation of different acupoints
“produces differential input to regions of the brain that regulate
sympathetic outflow and cardiovascular function.”

The researchers note that a hemodynamic study of acupoint P6 showed
that this acupuncture point “decreased heart rate and increased the
high-frequency HRV index of cardiac vagal modulation….” A sham acupoint
(a point not located on a traditional acupoint location) was able to
decrease the heart rate but did not change the vagal outflow as did P6.
These differing mechanisms suggest that sham acupuncture studies may
obscure the true medical benefits of acupuncture. In the case of P6
stimulation, only the true acupuncture point increased the
high-frequency HRV index. HRV (heart rate variability) is the variance
in time interval between heart beats. Reduced HRV is linked to mortality
after myocardial infarction and a lowering of HRV is also linked to
congestive heart failure, diabetic neuropathy and low survival rates in
premature babies. Both true and sham acupuncture decrease heart rates
but only true acupuncture increases HRV. Examination of other true
acupuncture points (across numerous studies) compared with
non-acupuncture points and non-relevant acupuncture points confirms that
hemodynamic responses are specific to exact acupuncture points and that
true acupoints elicit sympathoexcitatory responses relevant to their
traditional medical indications.

Neurological investigations support the specificity of acupuncture
points. The researchers examined MRI studies of the brain and note that
“stimulation of different sets of acupoints leads to disease-specific
neuronal responses, even when acupoints are located within the same
spinal segment.” The researchers also note, “The point-specific actions
resulting from stimulation of different acupoints in controlled
laboratory trials confirm that needling different points on the body
produces more than just placebo responses, given that placebo
acupuncture is not associated with differential or acupoint-specific
responses in anesthetized animals.”

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Point specificity in acupuncture. Chinese Medicine 2012, 7:4
doi:10.1186/1749-8546-7-4. Emma M Choi, Fang Jiang, John C Longhurst.

Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine, Department of Medicine,
School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine CA.
Medical Science, School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine,

New MRI Acupuncture Research on Point Specificity



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