Acupuncture Alleviates Rheumatoid Arthritis by Immune-Network Modulation

Am J Chin Med. 2018;46(5):997-1019. doi: 10.1142/S0192415X18500520. Epub 2018 Jul 12.


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, systemic autoimmune inflammatory and debilitating disease that involves the systemic imbalance of the immune network. Previous studies have shown that acupuncture can help treat RA. However, its specific mechanisms are not fully understood. Thus, the present study was designed to clarify the mechanisms of acupuncture acted on RA via immune network modulation using complete Freund's adjuvant (CFA)-induced arthritic rats. Results revealed that manual acupuncture (MA) could alleviate the inflammation and pain of infected joints. Moreover, MA could effectively stimulate the innate immune cytokines (IL-1[Formula: see text], IL-1[Formula: see text], IL-6, IL-7, IL-18, TNF-[Formula: see text]) and adaptive immunity cytokines (IL-2, IL-12, IFN-[Formula: see text], IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, IL-13, IL-17) as the main part of the immune response and repaired damage of RA. These complex immunomodulatory processes were analyzed quantitatively by cell-cell communication (CCC) networks. The CCC networks demonstrated that the immune networks were enhanced with the development of RA, while MA enhanced the immune networks in the early stage to act on RA and promoted the immune-network to a normal level at the late stage. Moreover, we found that monocyte/macrophage and endothelial cells were the key cells of innate immunity and body cells; TH1, TH2 and B cells were the key cells of adaptive immunity, which were also the main target cells for MA regulation.

Keywords: Analgesia; Cell–Cell Communication Networks; Complete Freund’s Adjuvant-induced Arthritis; Immune Network Regulation; Manual Acupuncture.

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / genetics
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-10 / genetics
  • Interleukin-10 / immunology
  • Interleukin-13 / genetics
  • Interleukin-13 / immunology
  • Interleukin-17 / genetics
  • Interleukin-17 / immunology
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Th1 Cells / immunology
  • Th2 Cells / immunology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / genetics
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / immunology


  • Interleukin-13
  • Interleukin-17
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Interleukin-10