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  • July 1, 2010

    Needling Adenosine Receptors for Pain Relief

    Acupuncture has been used for more than 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine to treat pain and other ailments. This technique was traditionally thought to work by channeling energy or Qi (pronounced chee) through body 'meridians' with acupuncture needles. In reality, meridians are not associated with any discrete anatomical structures. However, virtually all acupuncture points are located in deep tissues that are rich in sensory innervation, suggesting an intimate association between acupuncture points and peripheral somatosensory afferents. Although opioid peptides, the body's natural painkillers, contribute centrally to the pain-relieving effects of acupuncture, it is currently unclear what peripheral mechanisms are engaged by this ancient remedy.

  • May 30, 2010

    Acupuncture’s Molecular Effects Pinned Down

    Scientists have taken another important step toward understanding just how sticking needles into the body can ease pain.

    In a paper published online May 30 in Nature Neuroscience, a team at the University of Rochester Medical Center identifies the molecule adenosine as a central player in parlaying some of the effects of acupuncture in the body. Building on that knowledge, scientists were able to triple the beneficial effects of acupuncture in mice by adding a medication approved to treat leukemia in people.

    The new findings add to the scientific heft underlying acupuncture, said neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., who led the research. Her team is presenting the work this week at a scientific meeting, Purines 2010, in Barcelona, Spain.

  • May 30, 2010

    How Acupuncture Pierces Chronic Pain

    Millions of people worldwide use acupuncture to ease a variety of painful conditions, but it's still not clear how the ancient treatment works. Now a new study of mice shows that insertion of an acupuncture needle activates nearby pain-suppressing receptors. What's more, a compound that boosts the response of those receptors increases pain relief—a finding that could one day lead to drugs that enhance the effectiveness of acupuncture in people.

    Researchers have developed two hypotheses for how acupuncture relieves pain. One holds that the needle stimulates pain-sensing nerves, which trigger the brain to release opiumlike compounds called endorphins that circulate in the body. The other holds that acupuncture works through a placebo effect, in which the patient's thinking releases endorphins. Neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York state was skeptical about both hypotheses because acupuncture doesn't hurt and often works only when needles are inserted near the sore site. Nedergaard instead suspected that when acupuncturists insert and rotate needles, they cause minor damage to the tissue, which releases a compound called adenosine that acts as a local pain reliever.

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