Somatoautonomic reflexes in acupuncture therapy: A review

Auton Neurosci. 2017 Mar;203:1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2016.11.001. Epub 2016 Nov 16.


Oriental therapies such as acupuncture, moxibustion, or Anma, have been used to treat visceral disorders since ancient times. In each of these therapies, stimulation of the skin or underlying muscles leads to excitation of afferent nerves. The sensory information is carried to the central nervous system, where it is transferred to autonomic efferents, thus affecting visceral functions. This neuronal pathway, known as the "somatoautonomic reflex", has been systematically studied by Sato and his colleagues for over a half century. Nearly all their studies were conducted in anesthetized animals, whereas human patients are conscious. Responses in patients or the events following therapeutic somatic stimulation may differ from those observed in anesthetized animals. In fact, it is increasingly apparent that the responses in patients and animals are not always coincident, and the differences have been difficult for clinicians to reconcile. We review the mechanism of the "somatoautonomic reflex" as described in anesthetized animals and then discuss how it can be applied clinically.

Keywords: Acupuncture; Non-opioid system; Reset of visceral movement; Somatoautonomic reflex; Visceral afferents; Visceral regulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Afferent Pathways
  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / therapy
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Skin / innervation
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*