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Correlating acupuncture FMRI in the human brainstem with heart rate variability.

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Member IEEE, Massachusetts General Hospital, Department of Radiology, Boston, MA 02129 USA (phone: 617-724-3402; fax: 617-726-7422; e-mail:


Past neuroimaging studies of acupuncture have demonstrated variable results for important brainstem nuclei. We have employed cardiac-gated fMRI with T1-variability correction to study the processing of acupuncture by the human brain. Furthermore, our imaging experiments collected simultaneous ECG data in order to correlate heart rate variability (HRV) with fMRI signal intensity. Subjects experienced one of three stimulations over a 31.5 minute fMRI run: (1) electro-acupuncture at 2Hz/15Hz over the acupoint ST-36 (2) electro-acupuncture at a sham non-acupoint, or (3) sensory control tapping over ST-36. The ECG was analyzed with power spectral methods for low frequency and high frequency components, which reflect the balance in the autonomic nervous system. The HRV data was then correlated with the time-varying fMRI signal intensity. Our data suggests that fMRI activity in the hypothalamus, the dorsal raphe nucleus, the periaqueductal gray, and the rostroventral medulla showed significant correlation with LF/HF ratio calculated from simultaneous HRV data. The correlation of time-varying fMRI response with physiological parameters may provide insight into connections between acupuncture modulation of the autonomic nervous system and neuroprocessing.

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