Harvard Scientists Discover Neuroanatomical Basis of Acupuncture Signaling Pathway | New

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Harvard scientists have discovered the neuroanatomical basis of acupuncture points that trigger a specific anti-inflammatory signaling pathway, thus advancing our understanding of the therapeutic potential of acupuncture.

The team, led by neurobiologists at Harvard Medical School, discovered the specific type of neuron – “PROKR2-Cre-tagged sensory neurons” – that must be present for acupuncture to trigger an anti-inflammatory response via the vagal-adrenal axis, a signaling pathway in the nervous system, according to their article published in Nature last month.

In a study in mice, researchers showed that neurons labeled PROKR2-Cre only occur in one area of ​​the hind limb region, explaining why the anti-inflammatory response is not present in other regions. from the body.

Lead author of the article and professor of neurobiology at HMS, Qiufu Ma, said the discovery will allow scientists to predict the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory acupuncture treatment at different points in the body.

“More importantly, based on the distribution of this fiber, we can predict where [it] will be effective, ”said Ma.

The team looked into a medical issue known as a cytokine storm, which is triggered by diseases such as Covid-19 and cancer. A cytokine storm occurs when our immune response releases too many pro-inflammatory cytokines – small proteins important in cell signaling – that cause “collateral damage” in our bodies, according to Ma.

Ma pointed to a previous finding which showed that “brief electrical stimulation” of the vagal-adrenal axis – a pathway in which the vagus nerve signals the adrenal gland to release dopamine, which reduces inflammation – via acupuncture increased survival in mice suffering from a cytokine storm. from 20 percent to about 75 percent.

The team hopes their study may open new doors for optimizing this anti-inflammatory therapeutic application of acupuncture, according to co-lead author and postdoctoral fellow Shenbin Liu.

“These findings could pave the way for optimizing bioelectronic stimulation parameters (eg, intensity, location, and depth of stimulation) to drive distinct autonomous pathways for the treatment of specific diseases, including severe cytokine release syndromes, the management of which remains a major medical challenge. Liu wrote in an email.

The next step for the team is to use the results of the animal study and bring them back into a human context, according to Ma.

Ma said the hope is that the “major nervous organization” between mice and humans will be “evolutionarily conserved” so that the parameters they discovered in mice can be used as a guide in future. clinical studies.


– Editor-in-Chief Justin Lee can be reached at [email protected]


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