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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2014, Article ID 609594, 12 pages
Review Article

Acupuncture for Visceral Pain: Neural Substrates and Potential Mechanisms

1Department of Physiology, Institute of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Beijing 100700, China
2Department of Acupuncture, China General Meitan Hospital, Beijing 100028, China

Received 22 September 2014; Revised 13 December 2014; Accepted 13 December 2014; Published 29 December 2014

Academic Editor: Gerhard Litscher

Copyright © 2014 Shuping Chen 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.


Visceral pain is the most common form of pain caused by varied diseases and a major reason for patients to seek medical consultation. Despite much advances, the pathophysiological mechanism is still poorly understood comparing with its somatic counterpart and, as a result, the therapeutic efficacy is usually unsatisfactory. Acupuncture has long been used for the management of numerous disorders in particular pain and visceral pain, characterized by the high therapeutic benefits and low adverse effects. Previous findings suggest that acupuncture depresses pain via activation of a number of neurotransmitters or modulators including opioid peptides, serotonin, norepinephrine, and adenosine centrally and peripherally. It endows us, by advancing the understanding of the role of ion channels and gut microbiota in pain process, with novel perspectives to probe the mechanisms underlying acupuncture analgesia. In this review, after describing the visceral innervation and the relevant afferent pathways, in particular the ion channels in visceral nociception, we propose three principal mechanisms responsible for acupuncture induced benefits on visceral pain. Finally, potential topics are highlighted regarding the future studies in this field.