Modulation of neurogenesis via neurotrophic factors in acupuncture treatments for neurological diseases
Acupuncture is one of the main healing arts in Oriental medicine. It has long been used in East Asian countries, including Korea and China, and is thought to be an effective alternative treatment for various neurological diseases. The therapeutic effects of acupuncture come from inserting a needle at specific acupoints on the body surface, with subsequent delivery of stimulation via manual rotation or electric pulses (electroacupuncture, EA). In various neurological disease models, peripheral nerve stimulation using acupuncture or EA may have protective effects on neural tissues by increasing expression of neurotrophic factors (NTFs), such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor and glial-derived neurotrophic factor, in the central nervous system, especially the brain. In addition, acupuncture may contribute to recovery from functional impairments following brain damage by encouraging neural stem cell proliferation, which is active at the initial stage of injury, and by further facilitating differentiation. Hence, acupuncture may act as a stimulator activating peripheral nerves at specific acupoints and inducing the expression of various NTFs in the brain. Subsequently, NTFs induced by this treatment trigger autocrine or paracrine signaling, which stimulates adult neurogenesis, thereby exerting therapeutic effects on functional impairments in neurological diseases. Acupuncture may offer an alternative treatment that promotes adult neurogenesis through the expression of NTFs in the brain. It may also have synergistic effects when combined with pharmacological interventions, again facilitating neurogenesis. This review examines recent studies concerning the effects of acupuncture and EA on adult neurogenesis associated with NTF expression in neurological diseases, in particular stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease.