Front Hum Neurosci 2015; 9: 74 By Till Nierhaus 


Acupuncture can be regarded as a complex somatosensory stimulation. Here, we evaluate whether the point locations chosen for a somatosensory stimulation with acupuncture needles differently change the brain activity in healthy volunteers. We used EEG, event-related fMRI, and resting-state functional connectivity fMRI to assess neural responses to standardized needle stimulation of the acupuncture point ST36 (lower leg) and two control point locations (CP1 same dermatome, CP2 different dermatome). Cerebral responses were expected to differ for stimulation in two different dermatomes (CP2 different from ST36 and CP1), or stimulation at the acupuncture point vs the control points. For EEG, mu rhythm power increased for ST36 compared to CP1 or CP2, but not when comparing the two control points. The fMRI analysis found more pronounced insula and S2 (secondary somatosensory cortex) activation, as well as precuneus deactivation during ST36 stimulation. The S2 seed-based functional connectivity analysis revealed increased connectivity to right precuneus for both comparisons, ST36 vs. CP1 and ST36 vs. CP2, however in different regions. Our results suggest that stimulation at acupuncture points may modulate somatosensory and saliency processing regions more readily than stimulation at non-acupuncture point locations. Also, our findings suggest potential modulation of pain perception due to acupuncture stimulation.