Pain, 130(3):254-266. Napadow, V., Kettner, N., Liu, J., Li, M., Kwong, K. K., Vangel, M., Makris, N., Audette, J., and Hui, K. K. (2007).
Brain processing of acupuncture stimuli in chronic neuropathic pain patients may underlie its beneficial effects. We used fMRI to evaluate verum and sham acupuncture stimulation at acupoint LI-4 in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) patients and healthy controls (HC). CTS patients were retested after 5 weeks of acupuncture therapy. Thus, we investigated both the short-term brain response to acupuncture stimulation, as well as the influence of longer-term acupuncture therapy effects on this short-term response. CTS patients responded to verum acupuncture with greater activation in the hypothalamus and deactivation in the amygdala as compared to HC, controlling for the non-specific effects of sham acupuncture. A similar difference was found between CTS patients at baseline and after acupuncture therapy. For baseline CTS patients responding to verum acupuncture, functional connectivity was found between the hypothalamus and amygdala–the less deactivation in the amygdala, the greater the activation in the hypothalamus, and vice versa. Furthermore, hypothalamic response correlated positively with the degree of maladaptive cortical plasticity in CTS patients (inter-digit separation distance). This is the first evidence suggesting that chronic pain patients respond to acupuncture differently than HC, through a coordinated limbic network including the hypothalamus and amygdala.