Applications of Acupuncture Therapy in Modulating Plasticity of Central Nervous System

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Acupuncture is widely applied for treatment of various neurological disorders. This manuscript will review the preclinical evidence of acupuncture in mediating neural plasticity, the mechanisms involved.

Materials and Methods

We searched acupuncture, plasticity, and other potential related words at the following sites: PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), and VIP information data base. The following keywords were used: acupuncture, electroacupuncture, plasticity, neural plasticity, neuroplasticity, neurogenesis, neuroblast, stem cell, progenitor cell, BrdU, synapse, synapse structure, synaptogenesis, axon, axon regeneration, synaptic plasticity, LTP, LTD, neurotrophin, neurotrophic factor, BDNF, GDNF, VEGF, bFGF, EGF, NT-3, NT-4, NT-5, p75NTR, neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, norepinephrine, noradrenaline, dopamine, monamine. We assessed the effects of acupuncture on plasticity under pathological conditions in this review.


Relevant references were reviewed and presented to reflect the effects of acupuncture on neural plasticity. The acquired literatures mainly focused on neurogenesis, alterations of synapses, neurotrophins (NTs), and neurotranimitters. Acupuncture methods mentioned in this article include manual acupuncture and electroacupuncture.


The cumulative evidences demonstrated that acupuncture could induce neural plasticity in rodents exposed to cerebral ischemia. Neural plasticity mediated by acupuncture in other neural disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and depression, were also investigated and there is evidence of positive role of acupuncture induced plasticity in these disorders as well. Mediation of neural plasticity by acupuncture is likely associated with its modulation on NTs and neurotransmitters. The exact mechanisms underlying acupuncture's effects on neural plasticity remain to be elucidated. Neural plasticity may be the potential bridge between acupuncture and the treatment of various neurological diseases.

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