- Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice of inserting needles into the skin at certain points to relieve pain and other conditions.
- Electroacupuncture is a form of acupuncture that uses small electric current to stimulate the brain.
- This stimulation facilitates the release of reparative stem cells into the bloodstream to promote tissue repair and relieve pain.
Electroacupuncture triggers a neurological mechanism that can help promote tissue repair and relieve injury-induced pain.
The study was led by researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine.
The study describes how electroacupuncture stimulates the brain to facilitate the release of stem cells by stimulating the brain through small electrical current. It also adds new insight relating to the cells' healing properties.
For the study, a team of more than 40 scientists at institutions in the United States and South Korea was led by four senior authors including IU School of Medicine's Maria B. Grant, MD, Marilyn Glick Professor of Ophthalmology.
"This work is a classic example of the power of team science, where investigators in different institutions with specific expertise worked together to unravel the complexity of how electroacupuncture works to help the body respond to stressors," said Mervin C. Yoder, MD, co-corresponding author.
The researchers performed a series of lab tests involving humans, horses and rodents.
They followed the effects of electroacupuncture from the point of stimulus of the needle all the way to the brain, resulting in the release of reparative mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) into the bloodstream.
Within 9-22 minutes, depending on the species, electroacupuncture led to activation of the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls the nervous system and involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate and digestion.
The stem cells were mobilized within two hours.
"The acupuncture stimulus we're giving these animals has a rapid effect on neuroanatomical pathways that connect the stimulus point in the arm to responsive neurons in the spinal cord and into a region in the brain called the hypothalamus. In turn, the hypothalamus directs outgoing signals to stem cell niches resulting in their release," said Dr. Fletcher A. White, PhD, who is a neuroscientist at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.
The benefits of electroacupuncture treatments seen were:
- increasing thresholds for injury-induced pain
- increasing the presence of a type of collagen that promotes tendon repair and anti-inflammatory cells known to promote faster healing time
"We could potentially capture the MSCs from an individual's blood following electroacupuncture and save the cells for future re-introduction in the patient post-surgery or to treat chronic pain due to an injury," Fletcher added.
The findings are published in the journal Stem Cells.
- Maria B. Grant et al. Electroacupuncture Promotes CNS-Dependent Release of Mesenchymal Stem Cells. Stem Cells; (2017) DOI: 10.1002/stem.2613