Acupuncture blocks cold stress-induced increases in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis in the rat

J Endocrinol. 2013 Mar 15;217(1):95-104. doi: 10.1530/JOE-12-0404. Print 2013 Apr.


Electroacupuncture (EA) is used to treat chronic stress; however, its mechanism(s) of action in allaying stress remains unclear. The interplay of stress hormones of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is critical in the stress response. Our objective was to determine whether EA at acupoint, stomach 36 (EA St₃₆) is effective in preventing chronic cold stress-induced increased hormone levels in the rat by examining four groups of animals, three of which were exposed to cold and one of which was a non-treatment control group. Before exposure to the cold, two groups were treated with either EA St₃₆, or Sham-EA, before 10 days of cold stress. The EA St₃₆ animals demonstrated a significant decrease in peripheral HP hormones (ACTH and CORT) compared with stress animals (P<0.05). These effects were specific; rats receiving Sham-EA had elevation of these hormones, similar to the stress-only animals. These effects were mirrored centrally in the brain; CRH levels were significantly (P<0.05) reduced in EA St₃₆ animals compared with the other animals. Finally, EA effect on peripheral and adrenal SNS hormones (norepinephrine (NE) and neuropeptide Y (NPY) respectively) was examined, with no significant difference noted in adrenal tyrosine hydroxylase or circulating NE in any of the groups. However, EA St₃₆ was effective in preventing stress-induced elevation is adrenal Npy mRNA. These results indicate that EA St₃₆ blocks the chronic stress-induced elevations in the HPA and the sympathetic NPY pathway, which may be a mechanism for its specific stress-allaying effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Points
  • Adrenal Glands / metabolism
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cold-Shock Response*
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / genetics
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / metabolism
  • Down-Regulation*
  • Electroacupuncture*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology*
  • Lower Extremity
  • Male
  • Neuropeptide Y / genetics
  • Neuropeptide Y / metabolism
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / metabolism
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus / pathology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / innervation
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / metabolism
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology*
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Stress, Psychological / pathology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / metabolism
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology*


  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone
  • Corticosterone