Neuroimaging of acupuncture in patients with chronic pain
Tomography, X-Ray Computed
Acupuncture is an ancient therapeutic technique that has been extensively used in China for analgesia as well as for treatment of a variety of medical disorders. In this paper, we describe the potential use of various functional brain imaging techniques in the study of the effects of acupuncture. Five subjects with chronic pain had measures of cerebral blood flow obtained using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) both before (baseline) and after acupuncture. The baseline scans revealed asymmetric uptake in the thalami in all five cases. In four cases, the asymmetry was marked (three with right greater than left, and one left greater than right), while the last case revealed a bilateral increase in the thalami. In two patients, basal ganglia uptake was asymmetric with one patient having an increase in the left putamen and the other in the right caudate. The post-acupuncture scans revealed marked increases in the brainstem uptake and a tendency for normalization of the asymmetric thalamic and basal ganglia activity observed at baseline. They also showed that acupuncture analgesia is associated with unequivocal changes in the activity of the brainstem, as well as the thalami. The results from these cases show that there are changes in cerebral blood flow associated with pain and acupuncture analgesia that correspond to the area believed to be involved in such phenomena.