The impact of acupuncture on neuroplasticity after ischemic stroke: a literature review and perspectives

Front Cell Neurosci. 2022 Nov 10:16:817732. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2022.817732. eCollection 2022.


Ischemic stroke is common in the elderly, and is one of the main causes of long-term disability worldwide. After ischemic stroke, spontaneous recovery and functional reconstruction take place. These processes are possible thanks to neuroplasticity, which involves neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, and angiogenesis. However, the repair of ischemic damage is not complete, and neurological deficits develop eventually. The WHO recommends acupuncture as an alternative and complementary method for the treatment of stroke. Moreover, clinical and experimental evidence has documented the potential of acupuncture to ameliorate ischemic stroke-induced neurological deficits, particularly sequelae such as dyskinesia, spasticity, cognitive impairment, and dysphagia. These effects are related to the ability of acupuncture to promote spontaneous neuroplasticity after ischemic stroke. Specifically, acupuncture can stimulate neurogenesis, activate axonal regeneration and sprouting, and improve the structure and function of synapses. These processes modify the neural network and function of the damaged brain area, producing the improvement of various skills and adaptability. Astrocytes and microglia may be involved in the regulation of neuroplasticity by acupuncture, such as by the production and release of a variety of neurotrophic factors, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF). Moreover, the evidence presented indicates that acupuncture promotes neuroplasticity by modulating the functional reconstruction of the whole brain after ischemia. Therefore, the promotion of neuroplasticity is expected to become a new target for acupuncture in the treatment of neurological deficits after ischemic stroke, and research into the mechanisms responsible for these actions will be of significant clinical value.

Keywords: acupuncture; axon regeneration; glia; ischemic stroke; neurogenesis; neuroplasticity; neurotrophic factors; synapse.

Publication types

  • Review