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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 31-39

Prospective Tests on Biological Models of Acupuncture

Department of Medicine, Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard Medical School, 103 Garland Street, Everett, MA 02149, USA

Received 19 April 2007; Accepted 10 July 2007

Copyright © 2009 Charles Shang. 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.


The biological effects of acupuncture include the regulation of a variety of neurohumoral factors and growth control factors. In science, models or hypotheses with confirmed predictions are considered more convincing than models solely based on retrospective explanations. Literature review showed that two biological models of acupuncture have been prospectively tested with independently confirmed predictions: The neurophysiology model on the long-term effects of acupuncture emphasizes the trophic and anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture. Its prediction on the peripheral effect of endorphin in acupuncture has been confirmed. The growth control model encompasses the neurophysiology model and suggests that a macroscopic growth control system originates from a network of organizers in embryogenesis. The activity of the growth control system is important in the formation, maintenance and regulation of all the physiological systems. Several phenomena of acupuncture such as the distribution of auricular acupuncture points, the long-term effects of acupuncture and the effect of multimodal non-specific stimulation at acupuncture points are consistent with the growth control model. The following predictions of the growth control model have been independently confirmed by research results in both acupuncture and conventional biomedical sciences: (i) Acupuncture has extensive growth control effects. (ii) Singular point and separatrix exist in morphogenesis. (iii) Organizers have high electric conductance, high current density and high density of gap junctions. (iv) A high density of gap junctions is distributed as separatrices or boundaries at body surface after early embryogenesis. (v) Many acupuncture points are located at transition points or boundaries between different body domains or muscles, coinciding with the connective tissue planes. (vi) Some morphogens and organizers continue to function after embryogenesis. Current acupuncture research suggests a convergence of the neurophysiology model, the connective tissue model and the growth control model. The growth control model of acupuncture set the first example of a biological model in integrative medicine with significant prediction power.