Acupuncture's molecular effects pinned down

May 30, 2010

Scientists have taken another important step toward understanding just how sticking needles into the body can ease pain.

In a paper published online May 30 in , a team at the University of Rochester Medical Center identifies the molecule as a central player in parlaying some of the effects of acupuncture in the body. Building on that knowledge, scientists were able to triple the beneficial effects of acupuncture in mice by adding a medication approved to treat leukemia in people.

The research focuses on adenosine, a known for its role in regulating sleep, for its effects on the heart, and for its anti-inflammatory properties. But adenosine also acts as a natural , becoming active in the skin after an injury to inhibit and ease pain in a way similar to lidocaine.

In the current study, scientists found that the chemical is also very active in deeper tissues affected by acupuncture. The Rochester researchers looked at the effects of acupuncture on the - the nerves in our body that aren't part of the brain and spinal cord. The research complements a rich, established body of work showing that in the , acupuncture creates signals that cause the brain to churn out natural pain-killing endorphins.

The new findings add to the scientific heft underlying acupuncture, said neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., who led the research. Her team is presenting the work this week at a scientific meeting, Purines 2010, in Barcelona, Spain.

"Acupuncture has been a mainstay of medical treatment in certain parts of the world for 4,000 years, but because it has not been understood completely, many people have remained skeptical," said Nedergaard, co-director of the University's Center for Translational Neuromedicine, where the research was conducted.

"In this work, we provide information about one physical mechanism through which acupuncture reduces pain in the body," she added.

To do the experiment, the team performed acupuncture treatments on mice that had discomfort in one paw. The mice each received a 30-minute acupuncture treatment at a well known acupuncture point near the knee, with very fine needles rotated gently every five minutes, much as is done in standard acupuncture treatments with people.

The team made a number of observations regarding adenosine:

  • In mice with normal functioning levels of adenosine, acupuncture reduced discomfort by two-thirds.
  • In special "adenosine receptor knock-out mice" not equipped with the adenosine receptor, acupuncture had no effect.
  • When adenosine was turned on in the tissues, discomfort was reduced even without acupuncture.
  • During and immediately after an acupuncture treatment, the level of adenosine in the tissues near the needles was 24 times greater than before the treatment.
Once scientists recognized adenosine's role, the team explored the effects of a cancer drug called deoxycoformycin, which makes it harder for the tissue to remove adenosine. The compound boosted the effects of acupuncture treatment dramatically, nearly tripling the accumulation of adenosine in the muscles and more than tripling the length of time the treatment was effective.

"It's clear that acupuncture may activate a number of different mechanisms," said Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. "This carefully performed study identifies adenosine as a new player in the process. It's an interesting contribution to our growing understanding of the complex intervention which is ," added Briggs, who is the spouse of co-author Jurgen Schnermann.

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User comments : 11

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akotlar
4 / 5 (1) May 30, 2010
Probably why s-adenosylmethionine has some analgesic benefits.
kasen
5 / 5 (2) May 30, 2010
adenosine also acts as a natural painkiller, becoming active in the skin after an injury


Then how is an acupuncture point different from a random one? And how does the mapping of points on the human body transfer to a mouse's body? Do they get extra points because they have tails?
akotlar
not rated yet May 30, 2010
They're just assuming that the Chinese meridian diagrams are mapped over peripheral nerves, and studies on humans have supported that.
Mercury_01
not rated yet May 30, 2010
Amazing stuff. Now I wonder if this accounts for the long term healing benefits of acupuncture, or the way it can target specific systems in the body.
yyz
2.3 / 5 (3) May 30, 2010
PZ Meyers had an interesting post on Pharyngula recently regarding acupuncture: http://scienceblo...uack.php

FYI quote: "Expert witnesses told the hearing there were no acupuncture points in the vagina."

And quite a few responses (pro & con). I think kasen has a couple of relevant questions:

"how is an acupuncture point different from a random one?"

"how does the mapping of points on the human body transfer to a mouse's body?"

Are they just assuming?
Mercury_01
5 / 5 (1) May 30, 2010
Im sure they have maps of mouse nervous systems. Mice are some of the most dissected creatures in history.
bredmond
not rated yet May 30, 2010
PZ Meyers had an interesting post on Pharyngula recently regarding acupuncture: http://scienceblo...uack.php

FYI quote: "Expert witnesses told the hearing there were no acupuncture points in the vagina."

And quite a few responses (pro & con). I think kasen has a couple of relevant questions:

"how is an acupuncture point different from a random one?"

"how does the mapping of points on the human body transfer to a mouse's body?"

Are they just assuming?


regarding mouse body, i have read that early experiments in China on acupuncture points involved needling on horses' bodies. i guess they used analagous structures in horses as a guide for finding points on people's bodies.
Wired
1 / 5 (2) May 31, 2010
How does this square with the research showing sham acupunture working just as well as real acupuncture? Is this research really legit?
JAD
not rated yet May 31, 2010
Seconding the poster above, I'd be interested to know how this supports traditional acupuncture treatments. Double blind clinical trials show traditional acupuncture to be no different from a placebo wherein needles are inserted randomly (sham acupuncture). See the excellent book "Trick or Treatment" for a discussion of this.

Naively, it seems to me these findings offer a physical mechanism for the insertion of needles to cause pain reduction. They do not seem to support the system of placing needles in particular locations developed by the Chinese. They'd need a control group with random needle positions to establish that the Chinese system offers any tangible benefit to compensate for its complexity. I see no mention of such a control.
Archonstone
not rated yet Jun 10, 2010
THE ANATOMICAL RECORD (NEW ANAT.) 269:257–265, 2002
Relationship of Acupuncture Points and Meridians
to Connective Tissue Planes
HELENE M. LANGEVIN* AND JASON A. YANDOW
Acupuncture meridians traditionally are believed to constitute channels connecting the surface of the body to internal
organs. We hypothesize that the network of acupuncture points and meridians can be viewed as a representation of
the network formed by interstitial connective tissue. This hypothesis is supported by ultrasound images showing
connective tissue cleavage planes at acupuncture points in normal human subjects. To test this hypothesis, we
mapped acupuncture points in serial gross anatomical sections through the human arm. We found an 80%
correspondence between the sites of acupuncture points and the location of intermuscular or intramuscular
connective tissue planes in postmortem tissue sections. We propose that the anatomical relationship of acupuncture
points and meridians to connective tissue planes is rel
Archonstone
not rated yet Jun 10, 2010
the article describes how acupuncture sites have fundamental characteristics different from random areas on the body.
http://www.i-sis....aled.php
This article describes how collagen works as proton pathway amongst the network of fascia in a body.
Consequently the metabolistic behavior of individuals will cause variations of this charge conduction. This is consistent with chinese acupuncture theory and function. The energy download and homeostasis from organ and muscle function is part of it. Just read for your self and come to your own conclusions. The above article in the previous post is quite extensive. This article gives other backgrounds as well.