Acupuncture produces central activations in pain regions

Neuroimage. 2001 Jul;14(1 Pt 1):60-6. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2001.0798.


Acupuncture is largely used for pain control in several pathological conditions. Its effects on the central nervous system are not well defined. We investigated the effect of the application of acupuncture to 13 normal subjects (males, 21-32 years). H2(15)O bolus PET scans were read before the application of the needles (Rest, R) and after 25 min of needle insertion. Data were acquired by scanning in 3-D mode. The acupuncture application, true acupuncture (TA), was alternated to a placebo needle application (PA) in two different sequences (seven and six subjects, respectively), either R,PA,R, TA or R,TA,R,PA, a period of 15 min being left after every first TA or PA to allow for the recovery of basal conditions. Here we show that classic acupuncture activates the left Anterior Cingulus, the Insulae bilaterally, the Cerebellum bilaterally, the left Superior Frontal Gyrus, and the right Medial and Inferior Frontal Gyri. Most of the activated areas are shared with areas activated in acute and chronic pain states as described in the literature. Thus acupuncture appears to act by activating areas also involved in pain. This indicates that acupuncture could relief pain by unbalancing the equilibrium of distributed pain-related central networks.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Points*
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Male
  • Pain Threshold / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*