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The Study of Acupoint Stimulation using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A Review

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AbstractIn recent research on acupuncture there has been much use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), particularly the form of MRI that detects brain activity rather than brain structure. This review surveys the literature concerned with one particular aspect of acupuncture research: the authenticity of acupoints. Needling inevitable causes brain activity and researchers have striven to see whether needling an acupoint traditionally linked to one particular organ or physiological process, as distinct from needling elsewhere, causes brain activity associated with that organ or physiological process. The early, positive work, using the zhiyin eye acupoint on the foot and scanning for activity in the occipital lobes of the brain (associated with vision) was partially retracted. Subsequent work has produced mixed results, some positive, some negative. One fairly definite result is that an acupoint is probably an area of the skin rather than a single point. The ambiguity of the data is partly explained by the enormous experimental difficulties experienced in using MRI for this type of work and the challenge of finding a way of administering authentic sham acupuncture. The need for further research is emphasised.


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