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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2 (2005), Issue 3, Pages 315-319

Investigating Acupuncture Using Brain Imaging Techniques: The Current State of Play

1Primary Medical Care, School of Medicine, University of Southampton, UK
2School of Health Professions and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Southampton, UK
3Neurology Department, Purpan Hospital, Toulouse, France

Received 13 July 2005; Accepted 20 July 2005

Copyright © 2005 George T. Lewith et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


We have systematically researched and reviewed the literature looking at the effect of acupuncture on brain activation as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography. These studies show that specific and largely predictable areas of brain activation and deactivation occur when considering the traditional Chinese functions attributable to certain specific acupuncture points. For example, points associated with hearing and vision stimulates the visual and auditory cerebral areas respectively. Pain, however, is a complex matrix that is intimately intertwined with expectation. Acupuncture clearly affects this matrix in both specific and non-specific manner that is consistent with its specific clinical effects, as well as the effects of expectation on pain relief. This article summarizes the current imaging literature.