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Researchers have quantified mechanisms by which acupuncture exerts anti-inflammatory and pain reducing medical benefits. A new laboratory experiment proves that true electroacupuncture and not sham acupuncture causes biological reactions responsible for eliminating pain and inflammation. Researchers discovered that acupuncture inhibits ERK1/2-COX-2 pathway activation and ERK1/2-CREB-NK-1 pathway activation. Let’s take a look at why these biochemical pathways are so vitally important to pain management.

How Acupuncture Reduces Inflammation

COX-2 is an enzyme responsible for pain and inflammation. NK-1 is also an integral mediator of pain and inflammation in the central nervous system. Both NK-1 and COX-2 regulate sensitivity to pain. ERK1/2 is a signaling protein that regulates expression of both NK-1 and COX-2. In this study, electroacupuncture has been proven to regulate expression of both the ERK1/2-COX-2 and ERK1/2-CREB-NK-1 pathways thereby causing reductions in both pain and inflammation.

Application of acupuncture needles to acupuncture points effectively regulated the pain pathways of NK-1 and COX-2. Superficial sham acupuncture was also tested. Superficial sham acupuncture did not significantly regulate changes in the NK-1 and COX-2 pathways whereas the true acupuncture repeatedly and consistently regulated the pathways.

Electroacupuncture was applied to laboratory rats at acupuncture points ST36 (Zusanli) and BL60 (Kunlun). Electroacupuncture was applied at 2-100 Hz at an intensity of 1-2 mA. A HANS acupuncture point nerve stimulator device by Huawei Co., Ltd. was used to supply the ipsilateral electroacupuncture with a constant square wave. ST36 is located on the lower leg between the tibia and fibula. UB60 is located proximal to the lateral aspect of the ankle, lateral malleolus.

Immunohistochemistry using western blot, real-time PCR and electrophoretic mobility shift assay were used to measure the results in this acupuncture continuing education study. Electroacupuncture successfully regulated the pain and inflammation pathways of COX-2 and NK-1. As a result, the researchers note that the “present study shows EA (electroacupuncture) treatment might be a useful therapy for the treatment of inflammatory pain allodynia.” They add that electroacupuncture exerts an analgesic effect and that different biological pathways are activated at different time points. As a result, the researchers conclude that electroacupuncture stops pain through different mechanisms that include the post-translational inhibition of ERK1/2-COX-2 pathway activation and the transcriptional inhibition of ERK1/2-CREB-NK-1 pathway activation.

This research goes well beyond clinical issues of whether or not acupuncture stops pain. The research team successfully measured exact biological responses to acupuncture and the consequent reductions in pain and inflammation by use of specific acupuncture points. The researchers have identified exact biological pathways responsible for pain and inflammation reduction that are regulated by the application of acupuncture.


How Acupuncture Reduces Inflammation

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