Acupuncture: pain management coupled to immune stimulation

Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao. 1999 Sep;20(9):769-77.


The phenomenon of acupuncture is both complex and dynamic. Recent information demonstrates that acupuncture may exert its actions on pain and immune processes. The coupling of these two systems occurs via common signaling molecules, i.e., opioid peptides. In this regard, we surmise that opioid activation leads to the processing of opioid peptides from their precursor, proenkephalin, and the simultaneous release of antibacterial peptides contained within the precursor as well. Thus, central nervous system pain circuits may be coupled to immune enhancement. Furthermore, acupuncture needle manipulation elicited signal increases bilaterally in the region of the primary and secondary somatosensory corticies in human brain as determined by magnetic resonance imaging. The maps reveal marked signal decreases bilaterally in multiple limbic and deep gray structures including the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and ventral tegmental area. Taken together, we surmise a major central nervous system pathway as well as local pain and immune modulation during acupuncture.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Analgesia*
  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / metabolism
  • Enkephalin, Methionine / metabolism*
  • Enkephalins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Pain Threshold
  • Peptide Fragments / metabolism*
  • Somatosensory Cortex / metabolism


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Enkephalins
  • Peptide Fragments
  • enkelytin
  • Enkephalin, Methionine