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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 429412, 23 pages
Review Article

Neural Acupuncture Unit: A New Concept for Interpreting Effects and Mechanisms of Acupuncture

1School of Chinese Medicine, LKS Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, 10 Sassoon Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong
2National Institute of Nursing Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
3Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Science, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK

Received 24 September 2011; Revised 30 November 2011; Accepted 1 December 2011

Academic Editor: Toku Takahashi

Copyright © 2012 Zhang-Jin Zhang 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.


When an acupuncture needle is inserted into a designated point on the body and mechanical or electrical stimulation is delivered, various neural and neuroactive components are activated. The collection of the activated neural and neuroactive components distributed in the skin, muscle, and connective tissues surrounding the inserted needle is defined as a neural acupuncture unit (NAU). The traditionally defined acupoints represent an anatomical landmark system that indicates local sites where NAUs may contain relatively dense and concentrated neural and neuroactive components, upon which acupuncture stimulation would elicit a more efficient therapeutic response. The NAU-based local mechanisms of biochemical and biophysical reactions play an important role in acupuncture-induced analgesia. Different properties of NAUs are associated with different components of needling sensation. There exist several central pathways to convey NAU-induced acupuncture signals, Electroacupuncture (EA) frequency-specific neurochemical effects are related to different peripheral and central pathways transmitting afferent signals from different frequency of NAU stimulation. More widespread and intense neuroimaging responses of brain regions to acupuncture may be a consequence of more efficient NAU stimulation modes. The introduction of the conception of NAU provides a new theoretical approach to interpreting effects and mechanisms of acupuncture in modern biomedical knowledge framework.