SSE Talks


The Imaging of Acupuncture Points and the Characterization of Signal Pathways Using fMRI and Quantitative Ultrasonic Methods
Apr 09, 2009 at 4:39 PM EST | J. P. Jones


Joie P. Jones (1) and Young K. Bae (2)


Over the past decade our group has been investigating acupuncture using medical imaging techniques such as functional MRI and ultrasonic imaging. In our first study (see Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, Vol. 95, 2670-2673, March 1998), we demonstrated that activation of specific acupoints in the foot along a specific meridian elicited increases in cortical blood flow in circumscribed regions of the visual cortex, comparable in magnitude and brain location to those obtained by stimulation of the visual cortex by flashes of light.

In a second study (presented at the 20th Annual Meeting of the SSE, June 7 – 9, 2001, La Jolla, CA), we used ultrasound to stimulate the acupoint site. Using highly focused ultrasonic pulses having intensities much higher than those used for ultrasonic imaging but well below cavitation levels where damage would occur, we stimulated a vision related acupoint and found that corresponding brain activity, recorded by fMRI, was indistinguishable from that produced by acupuncture needles. Conventional ultrasonic imaging, previously used to monitor the placement and application of the acupuncture needle, was unable to identify any remarkable anatomical features associated with the acupoint. However, a later study (presented at the 21st Annual Meeting of the SSE, May 29-31, 2002, University of Virginia), showed that acupoints correspond to regions of enhanced elasticity (and enhanced ultrasonic attenuation) and that these regions of altered acoustical properties can change in size, shape, and even location in short periods of time (less than one day)

In the present study, we describe a 2-D ultrasound transducer array system we have developed which enables us to record three-dimensional data in real-time so that off-line analysis and reconstruction can produce a 3-D “real-time” attenuation image of the acupoint during stimulation. Such images clearly show the acupoint extending and twisting itself around the needle, confirming the feeling of “stickiness” felt by practitioners during the stimulation process. This rotation of an acupoint is consistent with the rotation of a chakra as described in the Oriental Medicine literature. Finally, using fMRI to monitor the stimulation of acupoints by ultrasound, we obtained precise measurements of the time between acupoint stimulation and brain activity. Using these methods we discovered three distinct pathways by which information is transmitted from the acupoint to the brain. The first, and previously well-documented pathway, is along the nerves where we record brain activity 180 to 200 ms following acupoint stimulation. A second and very fast pathway shows brain activity less than 0.8 ms following acupoint stimulation (our measurement error) and may be instantaneous. This activity is two orders of magnitude faster than any know biological process and may be produced by an electromagnetic pulse generated by the acupoint. A third and very slow pathway shows brain activity 15 to 25 seconds following acupoint stimulation. This slow activity correlates precisely with the flow of Qi along the meridians as observed by subjects sensitive to this process.


(1) Department of Radiological Sciences, University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA, USA; (2) Bae Institute of Immune Enhancement, Tustin, CA, USA.




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