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Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:350949. doi: 10.1155/2013/350949. Epub 2013 Jun 4.

ATP release from mast cells by physical stimulation: a putative early step in activation of acupuncture points.

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Acupuncture and Moxibustion College, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1200 Cailun Road, Shanghai 201203, China ; Shanghai Research Center for Acupuncture and Meridians, 199 Guoshoujing Road, Shanghai 201203, China ; Research Centre, Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, 3850 St. Urbain Street, Montréal, QC, Canada H2W 1T8.


In Chinese medicine acupuncture points are treated by physical stimuli to counteract various diseases. These stimuli include mechanical stress as applied during the needle manipulation or tuina, high temperatures as applied during moxibustion, and red laser light applied during laser acupuncture. This study aimed to investigate cellular responses to stimuli that might occur in the tissue of acupuncture points. Since they have a characteristically high density of mast cells that degranulate in response to acupuncture, we asked whether these processes lead to ATP release. We tested in in vitro experiments on mast cells of the human mast-cell line HMC-1 the effects of the physical stimuli; mechanical stress was applied by superfusion of the cells with hypotonic solution, heat was applied by incubation of the cells at 52°C, and red laser light of 657 nm was used for irradiation. We demonstrate that all the stimuli induce ATP release from model human mast HMC-1 cells, and this release is associated with an intracellular free Ca(2+) rise. We hypothesize that ATP released from mast cells supplements the already known release of ATP from keratinocytes and, by acting on P2X receptors, it may serve as initial mediator of acupuncture-induced analgesia.

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