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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 934085, 11 pages
Research Article

Partly Separated Activations in the Spatial Distribution between de-qi and Sharp Pain during Acupuncture Stimulation: An fMRI-Based Study

1Life Sciences Research Center, School of Life Sciences and Technology, Xidian University, Xi'an, Shaanxi 710071, China
2Huaxi MR Research Center (HMRRC), Department of Radiology, Center for Medical Imaging, West China Hospital of Sichuan University, Chengdu, Sichuan 610041, China
3Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100190, China

Received 9 October 2012; Revised 4 December 2012; Accepted 5 December 2012

Academic Editor: Gerhard Litscher

Copyright © 2012 Jinbo Sun 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.


Nowadays, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has become one of the most important ways to explore the central mechanism of acupuncture. Among these studies, activations around the somatosensory-related brain network had the most robust blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) responses. However, due to the insufficient control of the subjective sensations during acupuncture stimulation, whether these robust activations reflected the pattern of de-qi, sharp pain, or mixed (de-qi + sharp pain) sensations was largely unknown. The current study recruited 50 subjects and grouped them into two groups according to whether he/she experienced sharp pain during acupuncture stimulation to give a definite answer to the aforesaid question. Our results indicated that BOLD responses associated with de-qi during acupuncture stimulation at ST36 were activation dominated. Furthermore, both the quantitative and qualitative differences of BOLD responses between de-qi and mixed sensations evoked by acupuncture stimulation were significant. The pattern of BOLD responses of sharp pain might be partly separated from that of de-qi in the spatial distribution. Therefore, we proposed that in order to explore the specific central mechanism of acupuncture, subjects with sharp pain should be excluded from those with only de-qi.