Acupuncture modulates immunity in sepsis: Toward a science-based protocol

Auton Neurosci. 2021 May;232:102793. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2021.102793. Epub 2021 Feb 27.


Sepsis is a serious medical condition in which immune dysfunction plays a key role. Previous treatments focused on chemotherapy to control immune function; however, a recognized effective compound or treatment has yet to be developed. Recent advances indicate that a neuromodulation approach with nerve stimulation allows developing a therapeutic strategy to control inflammation and improve organ functions in sepsis. As a quick, non-invasive technique of peripheral nerve stimulation, acupuncture has emerged as a promising therapy to provide significant advantages for immunomodulation in acute inflammation. Acupuncture obtains its regulatory effect by activating the somatic-autonomic-immune reflexes, including the somatic-sympathetic-splenic reflex, the somatic-sympathetic-adrenal reflex, the somatic-vagal-splenic reflex and the somatic-vagal-adrenal reflex, which produces a systemic effect. The peripheral nerve stimulation also induces local reflexes such as the somatic-sympathetic-lung-reflex, which then produces local effects. These mechanisms offer scientific guidance to design acupuncture protocols for immunomodulation and inflammation control, leading to an evidence-based comprehensive therapy recommendation.

Keywords: Acupuncture; Anti-inflammation; Electroacupuncture; Immune dysfunction; Inflammation; Inflammatory reflex; Nerve stimulation; Sepsis; Somatic-sympathetic reflex; Somatic-vagal reflex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Autonomic Nervous System
  • Humans
  • Reflex
  • Sepsis* / therapy
  • Sympathetic Nervous System