Acupuncture is a therapeutic treatment that is defined as the insertion of needles into the body at specific points (ie, acupoints). Advances in functional neuroimaging have made it possible to study brain responses to acupuncture; however, previous studies have mainly concentrated on acupoint specificity. We wanted to focus on the functional brain responses that occur because of needle insertion into the body. An activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis was carried out to investigate common characteristics of brain responses to acupuncture needle stimulation compared to tactile stimulation. A total of 28 functional magnetic resonance imaging studies, which consisted of 51 acupuncture and 10 tactile stimulation experiments, were selected for the meta-analysis. Following acupuncture needle stimulation, activation in the sensorimotor cortical network, including the insula, thalamus, anterior cingulate cortex, and primary and secondary somatosensory cortices, and deactivation in the limbic-paralimbic neocortical network, including the medial prefrontal cortex, caudate, amygdala, posterior cingulate cortex, and parahippocampus, were detected and assessed. Following control tactile stimulation, weaker patterns of brain responses were detected in areas similar to those stated above. The activation and deactivation patterns following acupuncture stimulation suggest that the hemodynamic responses in the brain simultaneously reflect the sensory, cognitive, and affective dimensions of pain.
Perspective: This article facilitates a better understanding of acupuncture needle stimulation and its effects on specific activity changes in different brain regions as well as its relationship to the multiple dimensions of pain. Future studies can build on this meta-analysis and will help to elucidate the clinically relevant therapeutic effects of acupuncture.
Copyright © 2013 American Pain Society. All rights reserved.