Department of Medicine, Physiology and Biophysics, and Pharmacology, School of Medicine, University of California, Medical Sciences, Irvine, California, USA. Electronic address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although mechanisms underlying acupuncture regulation of pain have been studied by a number of laboratories in many countries, much less is known about its ability to modulate cardiovascular function. In the last two decades, our laboratory has systematically investigated the peripheral and central neural mechanisms underlying acupuncture regulation of blood pressure. These observations account for acupuncture’s distant actions and, to some extent, its local actions, with respect to the site of needling. Four fundamental findings have advanced our knowledge. First, point-specific effects of acupuncture underlie its cardiovascular actions. Second, variable regions in the supraspinal and spinal central nervous system that receive input from somatic afferent stimulation account for acupuncture’s ability to modulate blood pressure. Thus, depending on the underlying situation, for example, high or low blood pressure, acupuncture modifies autonomic outflow by reducing activity in brain stem nuclei that participate in the primary response. Third, repetitive acupuncture through a molecular mechanism can cause prolonged cardiovascular effects that far outlast acupuncture stimulation. Fourth, there is a range of cardiovascular responsiveness to acupuncture that depends, at least in part, on interactions between neural modulators that synaptically regulate autonomic function in the brain stem. Thus, acupuncture has the capability of profoundly regulating cardiovascular function in patients with disease, for example, hypertension, and the experimental laboratory is directing best approaches to study its actions in humans.