Effects of electroacupuncture versus manual acupuncture on the human brain as measured by fMRI

Napadow V, Makris N, Liu J, Kettner NW, Kwong KK, Hui KK

Hum Brain Mapp 2005 Mar;24(3):193-205

PMID: 15499576


The goal of this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study was to compare the central effects of electroacupuncture at different frequencies with traditional Chinese manual acupuncture. Although not as time-tested as manual acupuncture, electroacupuncture does have the advantage of setting stimulation frequency and intensity objectively and quantifiably. Manual acupuncture, electroacupuncture at 2 Hz and 100 Hz, and tactile control stimulation were carried out at acupoint ST-36. Overall, electroacupuncture (particularly at low frequency) produced more widespread fMRI signal increase than manual acupuncture did, and all acupuncture stimulations produced more widespread responses than did our placebo-like tactile control stimulation. Acupuncture produced hemodynamic signal increase in the anterior insula, and decrease in limbic and paralimbic structures including the amygdala, anterior hippocampus, and the cortices of the subgenual and retrosplenial cingulate, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, frontal, and temporal poles, results not seen for tactile control stimulation. Only electroacupuncture produced significant signal increase in the anterior middle cingulate cortex, whereas 2-Hz electroacupuncture produced signal increase in the pontine raphe area. All forms of stimulation (acupuncture and control) produced signal increase in SII. These findings support a hypothesis that the limbic system is central to acupuncture effect regardless of specific acupuncture modality, although some differences do exist in the underlying neurobiologic mechanisms for these modalities, and may aid in optimizing their future usage in clinical applications.