Acupuncture stimulates the release of serotonin, but not dopamine, in the rat nucleus accumbens

Tohoku J Exp Med. 2006 Apr;208(4):321-6. doi: 10.1620/tjem.208.321.


Acupuncture has been introduced as one of the available therapies widely used in alternative medicine, but it has not achieved widespread acceptance with scientific evidence. Furthermore there are still many unanswered questions about the basic mechanisms of acupuncture. To investigate the neuropharmacological mechanisms of oriental acupuncture, we studied the acupuncture-induced changes of in vivo monoamine release in the rat brain. A microdialysis guide cannula was implanted into the nucleus accumbens (ACC), which plays an important role in the brain reward system. Acupuncture treatment at the unilateral or bilateral Shenshu (bladder urinary channel 23) acupoints, located on the both sides of the spinous processes on the lower back, was carried out for 60 min in freely moving rats, and the dopamine (DA) and serotonin (5-HT) contents of the microdialysates in the ACC were measured simultaneously. In rats subjected to acupuncture at bilateral Shenshu acupoints, increases of 5-HT release in the ACC were observed at 20 min of acupuncture treatment and continued until 40 min after acupuncture was ended. Acupuncture at a unilateral Shenshu acupoint increased the release of 5-HT at 20 min compared with that in the sham-control group. Five-HT release returned to the baseline level at 120 min. The effects of acupuncture at bilateral Shenshu acupoints on the release of 5-HT in the ACC were greater than that of unilateral acupuncture treatment. In contrast, DA release in the ACC was not changed following acupuncture treatment. Effective acupuncture increased and prolonged the activity of serotonergic neurons in the reward system pathway of the brain. This suggests that oriental acupuncture therapy may be effective for the treatment of emotional disorders, drug abuse and alcoholism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Points
  • Acupuncture*
  • Animals
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Microdialysis
  • Models, Animal
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Serotonin / metabolism*


  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine