Does Acupuncture Really Trigger Nature Pain Killer?

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University of Rochester Medical Center scientists have published a paper online today, May 30, in Nature Neuroscience, claiming to have furthered the understanding of how acupuncture can ease pain. The team has linked the molecule adenosine as a central player in parlaying some of the effects of acupuncture in the body.

Neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc. led the research. Her team is presenting the work this week at a scientific meeting, Purines 2010, in Barcelona, Spain.

The research involved mice who had “discomfort” in one paw. The researchers “performed” 30-minute acupuncture treatments on the mice using an acupuncture point near the knee, with very fine needles rotated gently every five minutes, much as is done in standard acupuncture treatments with people.

In the current study, the researchers found that adenosine, a neuromodulator with anti-nociceptive properties, was released during acupuncture in mice and that its anti-nociceptive actions required adenosine A1 receptor expression. Direct injection of an adenosine A1 receptor agonist replicated the analgesic effect of acupuncture.

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The researchers noted that mice with normal functioning levels of adenosine, acupuncture reduced discomfort by two-thirds. This was defined by increased time of paw withdrawal to heat.

During and immediately after an acupuncture treatment, the level of adenosine in the tissues near the needles was 24 times greater than before the treatment.

This is a small study in mice. It needs to be replicated again in mice and then in humans.

Sources
Adenosine A1 receptors mediate local anti-nociceptive effects of acupuncture; Nanna Goldman, Michael Chen, Takumi Fujita, Qiwu Xu, Weiguo Peng, Wei Liu, Tina K Jensen, Yong Pei, Fushun Wang, Xiaoning Han, Jiang-Fan Chen, Jurgen Schnermann, Takahiro Takano, Lane Bekar, Kim Tieu, & Maiken Nedergaard; Nature Neuroscience (2010) DOI: doi:10.1038/nn.2562

University of Rochester Medical Center

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