A visual display of stripes was used to examine cardio-vagal response to motion sickness. Heart rate variability (HRV) was investigated using dynamic methods to discern instantaneous fluctuations in reaction to stimulus and perception-based events. A novel point process adaptive recursive algorithm was applied to the R-R series to compute instantaneous heart rate, HRV, and high frequency (HF) power as a marker of vagal activity. Results show interesting dynamic trends in each of the considered subjects. HF power averaged across ten subjects indicates a significant decrease 20s to 60s following the transition from "no nausea" to "mild." Conversely, right before "strong" nausea, the group average shows a transient trending increase in HF power. Findings confirm gradual sympathetic activation with increasing nausea, and further evidence transitory increases in vagal tone before flushes of strong nausea.
Previous work has shown that acupuncture stimulation evokes deactivation of a limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network (LPNN) as well as activation of somatosensory brain regions. This study explores the activity and functional connectivity of these regions during acupuncture vs. tactile stimulation and vs. acupuncture associated with inadvertent sharp pain. Acupuncture during 201 scans and tactile stimulation during 74 scans for comparison at acupoints LI4, ST36 and LV3 was monitored with fMRI and psychophysical response in 48 healthy subjects. Clusters of deactivated regions in the medial prefrontal, medial parietal and medial temporal lobes as well as activated regions in the sensorimotor and a few paralimbic structures can be identified during acupuncture by general linear model analysis and seed-based cross correlation analysis. Importantly, these clusters showed virtual identity with the default mode network and the anti-correlated task-positive network in response to stimulation. In addition, the amygdala and hypothalamus, structures not routinely reported in the default mode literature, were frequently involved in acupuncture. When acupuncture induced sharp pain, the deactivation was attenuated or became activated instead. Tactile stimulation induced greater activation of the somatosensory regions but less extensive deactivation of the LPNN. These results indicate that the deactivation of the LPNN during acupuncture cannot be completely explained by the demand of attention that is commonly proposed in the default mode literature. Our results suggest that acupuncture mobilizes the anti-correlated functional networks of the brain to mediate its actions, and that the effect is dependent on the psychophysical response.
Acupuncture-induced sensations have historically been associated with clinical efficacy. These sensations are atypical, arising from sub-dermal receptors, and their neural encoding is not well known. In this fMRI study, subjects were stimulated at acupoint PC-6, while rating sensation with a custom-built, MR-compatible potentiometer. Separate runs included real (ACUP) and sham (SHAM) acupuncture, the latter characterized by non-insertive, cutaneous stimulation. FMRI data analysis was guided by the on-line rating timeseries, thereby localizing brain correlates of acupuncture sensation. Sensation ratings correlated with stimulation more (p<0.001) for SHAM (r=0.63) than for ACUP (r=0.32). ACUP induced stronger and more varied sensations with significant persistence into no-stimulation blocks, leading to more run-time spent rating low and moderate sensations compared to SHAM. ACUP sensation correlated with activation in regions associated with sensorimotor (SII, insula) and cognitive (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC)) processing, and deactivation in default-mode network (DMN) regions (posterior cingulate, precuneus). Compared to SHAM, ACUP yielded greater activity in both anterior and posterior dmPFC and dlPFC. In contrast, SHAM produced greater activation in sensorimotor (SI, SII, insula) and greater deactivation in DMN regions. Thus, brain encoding of ACUP sensation (more persistent and varied, leading to increased cognitive load) demonstrated greater activity in both cognitive/evaluative (posterior dmPFC) and emotional/interoceptive (anterior dmPFC) cortical regions. Increased cognitive load and dmPFC activity may be a salient component of acupuncture analgesia--sensations focus attention and accentuate bodily awareness, contributing to enhanced top-down modulation of any nociceptive afference and central pain networks. Hence, acupuncture may function as a somatosensory-guided mind-body therapy.
OBJECTIVE: Central pain augmentation resulting from enhanced excitatory and/or decreased inhibitory neurotransmission is a proposed mechanism underlying the pathophysiology of functional pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia (FM). Multiple functional magnetic resonance imaging studies implicate the insula as a region of heightened neuronal activity in this condition. Since glutamate (Glu) is a major cortical excitatory neurotransmitter that functions in pain neurotransmission, we undertook this study to test our hypothesis that increased levels of insular Glu would be present in FM patients and that the concentration of this molecule would be correlated with pain report.
METHODS: Nineteen FM patients and 14 age- and sex-matched pain-free controls underwent pressure pain testing and a proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy session in which the right anterior insula and right posterior insula were examined at rest.
RESULTS: Compared with healthy controls, FM patients had significantly higher levels of Glu (mean +/- SD 8.09 +/- 0.72 arbitrary institutional units versus 6.86 +/- 1.29 arbitrary institutional units; P = 0.009) and combined glutamine and Glu (i.e., Glx) (mean +/- SD 12.38 +/- 0.94 arbitrary institutional units versus 10.59 +/- 1.48 arbitrary institutional units; P = 0.001) within the right posterior insula. No significant differences between groups were detected in any of the other major metabolites within this region (P > 0.05 for all comparisons), and no group differences were detected for any metabolite within the right anterior insula (P > 0.11 for all comparisons). Within the right posterior insula, higher levels of Glu and Glx were associated with lower pressure pain thresholds across both groups for medium pain (for Glu, r = -0.43, P = 0.012; for Glx, r = -0.50, P = 0.003).
CONCLUSION: Enhanced glutamatergic neurotransmission resulting from higher concentrations of Glu within the posterior insula may play a role in the pathophysiology of FM and other central pain augmentation syndromes.
Combining human functional neuroimaging with other forms of psychophysiological measurement, including autonomic monitoring, provides an empirical basis for understanding brain-body interactions. This approach can be applied to characterize unwanted physiological noise, examine the neural control and representation of bodily processes relevant to health and morbidity, and index covert expression of affective and cognitive processes to enhance the interpretation of task-evoked regional brain activity. In recent years, human neuroimaging has been dominated by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies. The spatiotemporal information of fMRI regarding central neural activity is valuably complemented by parallel physiological monitoring, yet such studies still remain in the minority. This review article highlights fMRI studies that employed cardiac, vascular, respiratory, electrodermal, gastrointestinal and pupillary psychophysiological indices to address specific questions regarding interaction between brain and bodily state in the context of experience, cognition, emotion and behaviour. Physiological monitoring within the fMRI environment presents specific technical issues, most importantly related to safety. Mechanical and electrical hazards may present dangers to scanned subjects, operator and/or equipment. Furthermore, physiological monitoring may interfere with the quality of neuroimaging data, or itself be compromised by artefacts induced by the operation of the scanner. We review the sources of these potential problems and the current approaches and advice to enable the combination of fMRI and physiological monitoring in a safe and effective manner.
Acupuncture modulation of activity in the human brainstem is not well known. This structure is plagued by physiological artifact in neuroimaging experiments. In addition, most studies have used short (<15 min) block designs, which miss delayed responses following longer duration stimulation. We used brainstem-focused cardiac-gated fMRI and evaluated time-variant brain response to longer duration (>30 min) stimulation with verum (VA, electro-stimulation at acupoint ST-36) or sham point (SPA, non-acupoint electro-stimulation) acupuncture. Our results provide evidence that acupuncture modulates brainstem nuclei important to endogenous monoaminergic and opioidergic systems. Specifically, VA modulated activity in the substantia nigra (SN), nucleus raphe magnus, locus ceruleus, nucleus cuneiformis, and periaqueductal gray (PAG). Activation in the ventrolateral PAG was greater for VA compared to SPA. Linearly decreasing time-variant activation, suggesting classical habituation, was found in response to both VA and SPA in sensorimotor (SII, posterior insula, premotor cortex) brain regions. However, VA also produced linearly time-variant activity in limbic regions (amygdala, hippocampus, and SN), which was bimodal and not likely habituation--consisting of activation in early blocks, and deactivation by the end of the run. Thus, acupuncture induces different brain response early, compared to 20-30 min after stimulation. We attribute the fMRI differences between VA and SPA to more varied and stronger psychophysical response induced by VA. Our study demonstrates that acupuncture modulation of brainstem structures can be studied non-invasively in humans, allowing for comparison to animal studies. Our protocol also demonstrates a fMRI approach to study habituation and other time-variant phenomena over longer time durations.
Controversy remains regarding the mechanisms of acupuncture analgesia. A prevailing theory, largely unproven in humans, is that it involves the activation of endogenous opioid antinociceptive systems and mu-opioid receptors (MORs). This is also a neurotransmitter system that mediates the effects of placebo-induced analgesia. This overlap in potential mechanisms may explain the lack of differentiation between traditional acupuncture and either non-traditional or sham acupuncture in multiple controlled clinical trials. We compared both short- and long-term effects of traditional Chinese acupuncture (TA) versus sham acupuncture (SA) treatment on in vivo MOR binding availability in chronic pain patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia (FM). Patients were randomized to receive either TA or SA treatment over the course of 4 weeks. Positron emission tomography (PET) with (11)C-carfentanil was performed once during the first treatment session and then repeated a month later following the eighth treatment. Acupuncture therapy evoked short-term increases in MOR binding potential, in multiple pain and sensory processing regions including the cingulate (dorsal and subgenual), insula, caudate, thalamus, and amygdala. Acupuncture therapy also evoked long-term increases in MOR binding potential in some of the same structures including the cingulate (dorsal and perigenual), caudate, and amygdala. These short- and long-term effects were absent in the sham group where small reductions were observed, an effect more consistent with previous placebo PET studies. Long-term increases in MOR BP following TA were also associated with greater reductions in clinical pain. These findings suggest that divergent MOR processes may mediate clinically relevant analgesic effects for acupuncture and sham acupuncture.
Previous studies have defined low-frequency, spatially consistent networks in resting fMRI data which may reflect functional connectivity. We sought to explore how a complex somatosensory stimulation, acupuncture, influences intrinsic connectivity in two of these networks: the default mode network (DMN) and sensorimotor network (SMN). We analyzed resting fMRI data taken before and after verum and sham acupuncture. Electrocardiography data were used to infer autonomic modulation through measures of heart rate variability (HRV). Probabilistic independent component analysis was used to separate resting fMRI data into DMN and SMN components. Following verum, but not sham, acupuncture there was increased DMN connectivity with pain (anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), periaqueductal gray), affective (amygdala, ACC), and memory (hippocampal formation, middle temporal gyrus) related brain regions. Furthermore, increased DMN connectivity with the hippocampal formation, a region known to support memory and interconnected with autonomic brain regions, was negatively correlated with acupuncture-induced increase in a sympathetic related HRV metric (LFu), and positively correlated with a parasympathetic related metric (HFu). Following verum, but not sham, acupuncture there was also increased SMN connectivity with pain-related brain regions (ACC, cerebellum). We attribute differences between verum and sham acupuncture to more varied and stronger sensations evoked by verum acupuncture. Our results demonstrate for the first time that acupuncture can enhance the post-stimulation spatial extent of resting brain networks to include anti-nociceptive, memory, and affective brain regions. This modulation and sympathovagal response may relate to acupuncture analgesia and other potential therapeutic effects.
The central autonomic network (CAN) has been described in animal models but has been difficult to elucidate in humans. Potential confounds include physiological noise artifacts affecting brainstem neuroimaging data, and difficulty in deriving non-invasive continuous assessments of autonomic modulation. We have developed and implemented a new method which relates cardiac-gated fMRI timeseries with continuous-time heart rate variability (HRV) to estimate central autonomic processing. As many autonomic structures of interest are in brain regions strongly affected by cardiogenic pulsatility, we chose to cardiac-gate our fMRI acquisition to increase sensitivity. Cardiac-gating introduces T1-variability, which was corrected by transforming fMRI data to a fixed TR using a previously published method [Guimaraes, A.R., Melcher, J.R., et al., 1998. Imaging subcortical auditory activity in humans. Hum. Brain Mapp. 6(1), 33-41]. The electrocardiogram was analyzed with a novel point process adaptive-filter algorithm for computation of the high-frequency (HF) index, reflecting the time-varying dynamics of efferent cardiovagal modulation. Central command of cardiovagal outflow was inferred by using the resample HF timeseries as a regressor to the fMRI data. A grip task was used to perturb the autonomic nervous system. Our combined HRV-fMRI approach demonstrated HF correlation with fMRI activity in the hypothalamus, cerebellum, parabrachial nucleus/locus ceruleus, periaqueductal gray, amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus, and dorsomedial/dorsolateral prefrontal, posterior insular, and middle temporal cortices. While some regions consistent with central cardiovagal control in animal models gave corroborative evidence for our methodology, other mostly higher cortical or limbic-related brain regions may be unique to humans. Our approach should be optimized and applied to study the human brain correlates of autonomic modulation for various stimuli in both physiological and pathological states.
Acupuncture is an ancient Eastern healing modality with putative therapeutic applications. Unfortunately, little is known about the central mechanisms by which acupuncture may exert its effects. In this study, 16 [corrected] healthy subjects were evaluated with magnetoencephalography (MEG) to map the location and timing of brain activity during low-frequency electroacupuncture (EA) and mechanical, noninsertive, sham acupuncture (SA) given at acupoint PC-6. Both EA and SA evoked brain responses that localized to contralateral primary somatosensory (SI) cortex. However, initial responses for EA peaked slightly earlier than those for SA and were located inferiorly within SI. Average equivalent current dipole strength was stronger (particularly at latencies >60 ms) for SA. These spatiotemporal differences between activations elicited by EA and SA are likely attributable to stimulus modality (electrical versus mechanical) and differences in the underlying somatosensory fibers transmitting these signals. The present data confirm that acupuncture modulates activity within somatosensory cortex, providing support for previous studies that suggest that the therapeutic effects of acupuncture are linked to SI modulation. Thus, MEG provides excellent spatiotemporal characterization of the somatosensory component of acupuncture, and future studies can contrast derived brain response parameters in healthy controls with those found in a diseased state.
On November 8-9, 2007, the Society for Acupuncture Research (SAR) hosted an international conference to mark the tenth anniversary of the landmark NIH [National Institutes of Health] Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture. More than 300 acupuncture researchers, practitioners, students, funding agency personnel, and health policy analysts from 20 countries attended the SAR meeting held at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. This paper summarizes important invited lectures in the area of basic and translational acupuncture research. Specific areas include the scientific assessment of acupuncture points and meridians, the neural mechanisms of cardiovascular regulation by acupuncture, mechanisms for electroacupuncture applied to persistent inflammation and pain, basic and translational research on acupuncture in gynecologic applications, the application of functional neuroimaging to acupuncture research with specific application to carpal-tunnel syndrome and fibromyalgia, and the association of the connective tissue system to acupuncture research. In summary, mechanistic models for acupuncture effects that have been investigated experimentally have focused on the effects of acupuncture needle stimulation on the nervous system, muscles, and connective tissue. These mechanistic models are not mutually exclusive. Iterative testing, expanding, and perhaps merging of such models will potentially lead to an incremental understanding of the effects of manual and electrical stimulation of acupuncture needles that is solidly rooted in physiology.
De qi is an important traditional acupuncture term used to describe the connection between acupuncture needles and the energy pathways of the body. The concept is discussed in the earliest Chinese medical texts, but details of de qi phenomenon, which may include the acupuncturist's and/or the patient's experiences, were only fully described in the recent hundred years. In this paper, we will trace de qi historically as an evolving concept, and review the literature assessing acupuncture needle sensations, and the relationship between acupuncture-induced de qi and therapeutic effect. Thereafter, we will introduce the MGH Acupuncture Sensation Scale (MASS), a rubric designed to measure sensations evoked by acupuncture stimulation as perceived by the patient alone, and discuss some alternative statistical methods for analyzing the results of this questionnaire. We believe widespread use of this scale, or others like it, and investigations of the correlations between de qi and therapeutic effect will lead to greater precision in acupuncture research and enhance our understanding of acupuncture treatment.
The mammalian tongue is believed to fall into a class of organs known as muscular hydrostats, organs for which muscle contraction both generates and provides the skeletal support for motion. We propose that the myoarchitecture of the tongue, consisting of intricate arrays of muscular fibers, forms the structural basis for hydrostatic deformation. Owing to the fact that maximal diffusion of the ubiquitous water molecule occurs orthogonal to the short axis of most fiber-type cells, diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measurements can be used to derive information regarding 3-D fiber orientation in situ. Image data obtained in this manner suggest that the tongue consists of a complex juxtaposition of muscle fibers oriented in orthogonal arrays, which provide the basis for multidirectional contraction and isovolemic deformation. From a mechanical perspective, the lingual tissue may be considered as set of continuous coupled units of compression and expansion from which 3-D strain maps may be derived. Such functional data demonstrate that during physiological movements, such as protrusion, bending and swallowing, hydrostatic deformation occurs via synergistic contractions of orthogonally aligned intrinsic and extrinsic fibers. Lingual deformation can thus be represented in terms of models demonstrating that synergistic contraction of fibers at orthogonal or near-orthogonal directions to each other is a necessary condition for volume-conserving deformation. Evidence is provided in support of the supposition that hydrostatic deformation is based on the contraction of orthogonally aligned intramural fibers functioning as a mechanical continuum.
BACKGROUND: Acupuncture stimulation elicits deqi, a composite of unique sensations that is essential for clinical efficacy according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). There is lack of adequate experimental data to indicate what sensations comprise deqi, their prevalence and intensity, their relationship to acupoints, how they compare with conventional somatosensory or noxious response. The objective of this study is to provide scientific evidence on these issues and to characterize the nature of the deqi phenomenon in terms of the prevalence of sensations as well as the uniqueness of the sensations underlying the deqi experience.
METHODS: Manual acupuncture was performed at LI4, ST36 and LV3 on the extremities in randomized order during fMRI in 42 acupuncture naïve healthy adult volunteers. Non-invasive tactile stimulation was delivered to the acupoints by gentle tapping with a von Frey monofilament prior to acupuncture to serve as a sensory control. At the end of each procedure, the subject was asked if each of the sensations listed in a questionnaire or any other sensations occurred during stimulation, and if present to rate its intensity on a numerical scale of 1-10. Statistical analysis including paired t-test, analysis of variance, Spearman's correlation and Fisher's exact test were performed to compare responses between acupuncture and sensory stimulation.
RESULTS: The deqi response was elicited in 71% of the acupuncture procedures compared with 24% for tactile stimulation when thresholded at a minimum total score of 3 for all the sensations. The frequency and intensity of individual sensations were significantly higher in acupuncture. Among the sensations typically associated with deqi, aching, soreness and pressure were most common, followed by tingling, numbness, dull pain, heaviness, warmth, fullness and coolness. Sharp pain of brief duration that occurred in occasional subjects was regarded as inadvertent noxious stimulation. The most significant differences in the deqi sensations between acupuncture and tactile stimulation control were observed with aching, soreness, pressure and dull pain. Consistent with its prominent role in TCM, LI4 showed the most prominent response, the largest number of sensations as well as the most marked difference in the frequency and intensity of aching, soreness and dull pain between acupuncture and tactile stimulation control. Interestingly, the dull pain generally preceded or occurred in the absence of sharp pain in contrast to reports in the pain literature. An approach to summarize a sensation profile, called the deqi composite, is proposed and applied to explain differences in deqi among acupoints.
CONCLUSION: The complex pattern of sensations in the deqi response suggests involvement of a wide spectrum of myelinated and unmyelinated nerve fibers, particularly the slower conducting fibers in the tendinomuscular layers. The study provides scientific data on the characteristics of the 'deqi' response in acupuncture and its association with distinct nerve fibers. The findings are clinically relevant and consistent with modern concepts in neurophysiology. They can provide a foundation for future studies on the deqi phenomenon.
Brain processing of acupuncture stimuli in chronic neuropathic pain patients may underlie its beneficial effects. We used fMRI to evaluate verum and sham acupuncture stimulation at acupoint LI-4 in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) patients and healthy controls (HC). CTS patients were retested after 5 weeks of acupuncture therapy. Thus, we investigated both the short-term brain response to acupuncture stimulation, as well as the influence of longer-term acupuncture therapy effects on this short-term response. CTS patients responded to verum acupuncture with greater activation in the hypothalamus and deactivation in the amygdala as compared to HC, controlling for the non-specific effects of sham acupuncture. A similar difference was found between CTS patients at baseline and after acupuncture therapy. For baseline CTS patients responding to verum acupuncture, functional connectivity was found between the hypothalamus and amygdala--the less deactivation in the amygdala, the greater the activation in the hypothalamus, and vice versa. Furthermore, hypothalamic response correlated positively with the degree of maladaptive cortical plasticity in CTS patients (inter-digit separation distance). This is the first evidence suggesting that chronic pain patients respond to acupuncture differently than HC, through a coordinated limbic network including the hypothalamus and amygdala.
Acupuncture is an ancient East Asian healing modality that has been in use for more than 2000 years. Unfortunately, its mechanisms of action are not well understood, and controversy regarding its clinical efficacy remains. Importantly, acupuncture needling often evokes complex somatosensory sensations and may modulate the cognitive/affective perception of pain, suggesting that many effects are supported by the brain and extending central nervous system (CNS) networks. Modern neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, electroencephalography, and magnetoencephalography provide a means to safely monitor brain activity in humans and may be used to help map the neurophysiological correlates of acupuncture. In this review, we will summarize data from acupuncture neuroimaging research and discuss how these findings contribute to current hypotheses of acupuncture action.
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common entrapment neuropathy of the median nerve characterized by paresthesias and pain in the first through fourth digits. We hypothesize that aberrant afferent input from CTS will lead to maladaptive cortical plasticity, which may be corrected by appropriate therapy. Functional MRI (fMRI) scanning and clinical testing was performed on CTS patients at baseline and after 5 weeks of acupuncture treatment. As a control, healthy adults were also tested 5 weeks apart. During fMRI, sensory stimulation was performed for median nerve innervated digit 2 (D2) and digit 3 (D3), and ulnar nerve innervated digit 5 (D5). Surface-based and region of interest (ROI)-based analyses demonstrated that while the extent of fMRI activity in contralateral Brodmann Area 1 (BA 1) and BA 4 was increased in CTS compared to healthy adults, after acupuncture there was a significant decrease in contralateral BA 1 (P < 0.005) and BA 4 (P < 0.05) activity during D3 sensory stimulation. Healthy adults demonstrated no significant test-retest differences for any digit tested. While D3/D2 separation was contracted or blurred in CTS patients compared to healthy adults, the D2 SI representation shifted laterally after acupuncture treatment, leading to increased D3/D2 separation. Increasing D3/D2 separation correlated with decreasing paresthesias in CTS patients (P < 0.05). As CTS-induced paresthesias constitute diffuse, synchronized, multidigit symptomatology, our results for maladaptive change and correction are consistent with Hebbian plasticity mechanisms. Acupuncture, a somatosensory conditioning stimulus, shows promise in inducing beneficial cortical plasticity manifested by more focused digital representations.