Oriental Pharmacy and Experimental Medicine

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 111–126 | Cite as

Acupuncture modulates brain neural activity in patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis

  • Ji-Yeun Park
  • Yu-Kang Kim
  • Song-Yi Kim
  • Hyangsook Lee
  • Cheon-Joo Choi
  • Younbyoung Chae
  • Hi-Joon Park


Using fMRI, the acupuncture studies related with modifying disease process in patients still stay in the beginning, whereas the physiological response to acupuncture has been published abundantly. In this study, we reviewed acupuncture studies performed in patient and reported the changes of brain activity using fMRI. Only randomized controlled studies were included. We systemically searched PubMed and EMBASE and extracted data by two independent researchers. We also performed an ALE-meta analysis to investigate significant brain responses of acupuncture. Fifteen studies were finally included in our review. The studies were performed in stroke, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, lumbar disc herniation, Parkinson’s disease (PD) and mild cognitive impairment. The common changes of brain activity by acupuncture were identified in the sensory system and insular cortex, whereas other brain regions showed heterogeneous activity according to each disease status. Meta-analysis indicated the different brain responses between verum and sham acupuncture were found in the frontal lobe (BA 6) in the brain disorders such as stroke and PD and the parietal lobe (BA 40), insula (BA 13), limbic lobe (BA 23) and occipital lobe (BA 18) in the pain related disease. However, the correlations between the changes of clinical symptoms and brain activities are limited. Some specific changes of brain activities induced by acupuncture can be detective through patient imaging studies. However, it was difficult to draw an obvious conclusion due to the heterogeneity of the diseases and the interventions. Further well-designed patient centered fMRI studies considering clinical points are required.


Acupuncture effect Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) Patient Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) Meta-analysis 



This research was supported by Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning (NRF-2015R1C1A1A02036676) and the Bio & Medical Technology Development Program of the National Research Foundation (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning (NRF-2015M3A9E052338).

Author’s contribution

This review was conceived and designed by HJP and HL. SYK developed search strategy and conducted the database search. JYP and CJC assessed studies for inclusion, extracted and analyzed the data. JYP prepared the manuscript draft. HL provided guidance on assessing the methodological quality of the included studies. HJP and YC edited and revised the manuscript. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for publication.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Statement


Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Institute of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University and Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ji-Yeun Park
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yu-Kang Kim
    • 2
    • 3
  • Song-Yi Kim
    • 4
  • Hyangsook Lee
    • 2
    • 3
  • Cheon-Joo Choi
    • 3
  • Younbyoung Chae
    • 2
    • 3
  • Hi-Joon Park
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.College of Korean MedicineDaejeon UniversityDaejeonRepublic of Korea
  2. 2.Studies of Translational Acupuncture Research, Acupuncture and Meridian Science Research CenterKyung Hee UniversitySeoulRepublic of Korea
  3. 3.Department of Korean Medical Science, Graduate School of Korean MedicineKyung Hee universitySeoulRepublic of Korea
  4. 4.College of Korean MedicineGacheon UniversityGyonggi-doRepublic of Korea

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