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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2011, Article ID 481625, 14 pages
Review Article

Acupuncture May Stimulate Anticancer Immunity via Activation of Natural Killer Cells

1Department of Medicine, University of California, USA
2Division of Surgical Oncology, Department of Surgery, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
3University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Departments of Pathology and Immunology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
4Department of Chemistry, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Received 3 February 2009; Accepted 19 December 2009

Copyright © 2011 Michael Francis Johnston 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.


This article presents the hypothesis that acupuncture enhances anticancer immune functions by stimulating natural killer (NK) cells. It provides background information on acupuncture, summarizes the current scientific understanding of the mechanisms through which NK cells act to eliminate cancer cells, and reviews evidence that acupuncture is associated with increases in NK cell quantity and function in both animals and humans. The key contribution of this article involves the use of cellular immunology and molecular biological theory to interpret and synthesize evidence from disparate animal and human studies in formulating the ‘acupuncture immuno-enhancement hypothesis’: clinicians may use acupuncture to promote the induction and secretion of NK-cell activating cytokines that engage specific NK cell receptors that endogenously enhance anticancer immune function.