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Acupunct Med. 2012 Dec;30(4):316-23. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2012-010169. Epub 2012 Sep 29.

Brain areas involved in acupuncture needling sensation of de qi: a single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) study.

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First School of Clinical Medicine, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China.



De qi is a sensory response elicited by acupuncture stimulation. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), de qi is essential for clinical efficacy. However, the understanding of the neurobiological basis of de qi is still limited.


To investigate the relationship between brain activation and de qi by taking a single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scan while applying acupuncture at TE5.


A total of 24 volunteers were randomly divided into 4 groups, and received verum or sham acupuncture at true acupuncture point TE5 or a nearby sham point according to grouping. All subjects then received a (99m)Tc-ethylcysteinate dimer (ECD) SPECT scan.


All six subjects in the verum acupuncture at true acupuncture point group experienced de qi sensation; in contrast, all six subjects in the sham acupuncture at the sham point group responded with nothing other than non-sensation. Compared to the scan results from subjects who experienced non-sensation, SPECT scans from subjects with de qi sensation demonstrated significant activated points mainly located in brodmann areas 6, 8, 19, 21, 28, 33, 35, 37, 47, the parahippocampal gyrus, lentiform nucleus, claustrum and red nucleus; deactivated points were seen in brodmann areas 9 and 25.


Verum acupuncture at true acupuncture points is more likely to elicit de qi sensation. De qi sensations mainly resulted in brain area activations, but not deactivations. These brain areas are related to the curative effect of Te5. The acupuncture needle sensations of de qi and sharp pain are associated with different patterns of activations and deactivations in the brain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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