Acupuncture modulates resting state connectivity in default and sensorimotor brain networks

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Abstract

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.

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