Gua Sha, a press-stroke treatment of the skin, boosts the immune response to intradermal vaccination

PeerJ. 2016 Sep 14:4:e2451. doi: 10.7717/peerj.2451. eCollection 2016.


Objective: The skin is an important immunological barrier of the body as well as an optimal route for vaccine administration. Gua Sha, which involves press-stroke treatment of the skin, is an effective folk therapy, widely accepted in East Asia, for various symptoms; however, the mechanisms underlying its therapeutic effects have not been clarified. We investigated the influence of Gua Sha on the immunological features of the skin.

Methods: Gua Sha was performed on BALB/c mice and the effects were evaluated using anatomical, histological, and cytometric methods as well as cytokine determination locally and systemically. The effect on intradermal vaccination was assessed with antigen-specific subtype antibody responses.

Results: Blood vessel expansion, erythrocyte extravasation, and increased ratios of immune active cells were observed in the skin tissue following the treatment. Pro-inflammatory cytokines were up-regulated, and immunosuppressive cytokines, down-regulated, in the treated and untreated skin and systemic circulation; no obvious variations were detected in case of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Interestingly, intradermal delivery of a model vaccine following Gua Sha induced about three-fold higher IgG titers with a more Th1-biased antibody subtype profile.

Conclusion: Gua Sha treatment can up-regulate the innate and adaptive immune functions of the skin and boost the response against intradermal antigens. Thus, Gua Sha may serve as a safe, inexpensive, and independent physical adjuvant for intradermal vaccination.

Keywords: Antibody response; Gua Sha; Intradermal vaccination; Physical adjuvant; Skin immune system; Skin scrape; Surface microcirculation.

Grants and funding

This study was funded by the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars (81025019) and the National Basic Research Program of China (2012CB517603) for Prof. Junfeng Zhang; the Nanjing University State Key Laboratory of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology Independent Research Grant (ZZYJ-SN-201405) and the Project of Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province (BK20161478) for Dr. Zhi Ding. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.