Functional Neuroimaging of Acupuncture: A Systematic Review

Functional Neuroimaging of Acupuncture: A Systematic Review

Bin Yan (China National Digital Switching System Engineering and Technology Research Center, China), Yu Lei (China National Digital Switching System Engineering and Technology Research Center, China), Li Tong (China National Digital Switching System Engineering and Technology Research Center, China) and KeWei Chen (Banner Alzheimer’s Institute and Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2113-8.ch015
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Abstract

Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese healing methodology, is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world. However, the mechanism by which acupuncture exerts its effects is not yet fully understood. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a widely used technique to observe brain activity noninvasively. In this chapter, the authors first review the existing literature on the effects of acupuncture on brain activity and connectivity. The authors next discuss some basic issues in the study of acupuncture with fMRI, including deqi, baseline and control measures, acupuncture modalities, and experimental paradigms. At the end of the chapter, future research directions in the study of acupuncture with fMRI are suggested.
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Introduction

Acupuncture, an ancient therapeutic technique, has been used for more than 25 centuries (Medicine, 1980; Eisenberg et al., 1993; Ernst, 2009). It originated in ancient China, and is an important part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). According to TCM theory, acupuncture at specific acupoints is able to treat certain types of diseases and modulate the neuroendocrine and circulatory systems. In 1997, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) consensus statement on acupuncture affirmed the efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of specific conditions such as menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, and fibromyalgia (NIH, 1998). Acupuncture is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, Europe and throughout the world, emerging as an important treatment alternative and complementary intervention (Kessler et al., 2001; Li & Su, 2011). However, the mechanism by which acupuncture exerts its effects remains poorly understood. With the aim of making acupuncture widely adopted, researchers need powerful and reliable tools to study the effects of acupuncture.

In recent years, the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technique has become a well-suited tool to explore the complex mechanisms and assess the effects of acupuncture on brain activity (Bai et al., 2009; S. Y. Cho et al., 2010; Z. H. Cho et al., 1998; K. K. S. Hui, Liu, Makris, Gollub & Chen, 2000; K. K. S. Hui et al., 2005; Kong, Gollub, Webb et al., 2007; Kong et al., 2002; Yan et al., 2005). fMRI, together with other neuroimaging techniques, offers a mechanism for studying the brain noninvasively and revolutionizes the analysis of acupuncture methods.

In this chapter, we will systematically review the literature on the effects of acupuncture on brain activation, and will discuss some basic issues associated with the study of acupuncture using fMRI techniques.

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