Medical Research

Acupuncture and Itch: Brain Mechanisms Napadow

Kristen Sparrow • October 15, 2013

isams logoVitaly Napadow has done detailed investigations into the brain regions involved in acupuncture effects.  The abstract to his talk on pruritis is here.Vitaly Napadow

Real, but not sham, acupuncture was found to reduce itch sensation (ACUP: base=66±18, post=44±18, p<0.001; SHAM: base=57±17, post=58±22,p>0.6). Following real acupuncture, there was diminished itch-evoked brain activity in right aIns, aMCC, and several striatal areas (putamen, caudate, and nucleus accumbens). There was also less itch-evoked deactivation in a region of S1 contralateral to the acupuncture stimulation. Striatal response to itch may reflect procedural memory and affective/motivational aspects of itch, consistent with the urge to scratch. Down-regulation of brain regions thought to process salience (aIns, aMCC) and affective/motivational (striatum) components of itch in AD, may underlie the efficacy of acupuncture in relieving itch in this clinical population. While much acupuncture research has focused on pain relief, itch has interesting similarities to pain, and more research is needed to explore acupuncture’s anti-pruritic effects.