Molecule that plays key role in acupuncture identified

Washington, May 31 (IANS) A molecule has been found to play a key role in the effectiveness of acupuncture, says a new study.

Applying that knowledge, researchers were able to triple the beneficial effects of acupuncture by adding a medication approved to treat leukemia in people.

‘Acupuncture has been a mainstay of medical treatment in certain parts of the world for 4,000 years, but because it has not been understood completely, many people have remained sceptical,’ said Maiken Nedergaard.

‘In this work, we provide information about one physical mechanism through which acupuncture reduces pain in the body,’ she added.

Nedergaard is the co-director of the University of Rochester Medical Centre (URMC) for Translational Neuromedicine.

The research focuses on adenosine, a natural compound known for its role in regulating sleep, for its effects on the heart, and for its anti-inflammatory properties.

But adenosine also acts as a natural painkiller, becoming active in the skin after an injury to inhibit nerve signals and ease pain in a way similar to lidocaine.

URMC researchers looked at the effects of acupuncture on the peripheral nervous system – the nerves in our body that aren’t part of the brain and spinal cord.

The research complements a rich, established body of work showing that in the central nervous system, acupuncture creates signals that cause the brain to churn out natural pain-killing endorphins.

The team performed acupuncture treatments on mice that had discomfort in one paw, said an URMC release.

They received a 30-minute acupuncture treatment each near the knee, with very fine needles rotated gently every five minutes, much as is done in standard acupuncture treatments with people.

In mice with normal functioning levels of adenosine, acupuncture reduced discomfort by two-thirds.

These findings were published online in Nature Neuroscience.