Acupuncture points that trigger a specific anti-inflammatory signaling pathway

Harvard scientists discovered the neuroanatomical basis for acupuncture points that trigger a specific anti-inflammatory signaling pathway. By Jonathan G. Yuan, By Justin Lee, Crimson Staff Writer



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

The team, led by Harvard Medical School neurobiologists, found the specific type of neuron — “PROKR2-Cre marked 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 paper published in Nature last month.

In a study conducted on mice, the researchers showed that the PROKR2-Cre marked neurons only occur in an area of the hindlimb region, explaining why the anti-inflammatory response is not present in other regions of the body.

Senior author of the paper and HMS professor of neurobiology Qiufu Ma said that this discovery will allow scientists to predict the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory acupuncture treatment at different points of the body.

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

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

“These findings could pave the way to optimization of bioelectronic stimulation parameters (eg. stimulation intensity, location and depth) to drive distinct autonomic pathways for treating specific diseases, including severe cytokine release syndromes, the management of which remains a major medical challenge,”

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