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Neuroimage Clin. 2018 Jun 20;19:982-989. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2018.06.022. eCollection 2018.

Brain activation during the expectations of sensory experience for cutaneous electrical stimulation.

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Acupuncture & Meridian Science Research Center, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
KM Fundamental Research Division, Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, Daejeon, Republic of Korea.
Acupuncture & Meridian Science Research Center, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea. Electronic address:


The brain actively interprets sensory inputs by integrating top-down and bottom-up information. Humans can make inferences on somatosensation based on prior experiences and expectations even without the actual stimulation. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the neural substrates of the expectations of the sensory experience of cutaneous electrical stimulation on acupoint without actual stimuli. This study included 22 participants who wore sticker-type electrodes attached on three different acupoints on different body regions: CV17 (chest), CV23 (chin), and left PC6 (arm). Participants evaluated de qi sensations after they expected electrical stimulation on those points in random order without actual stimulation. All stimuli were presented with corresponding visual information of the stimulation sites. The control condition included the same visual information but outside the body. The expectations of cutaneous electrical stimuli without actual stimulation on three acupoints resulted in greater de qi sensation compared to the control condition. Cognitive components of cutaneous electrical stimulation exhibited greater brain activation in the anterior insula, pre-supplementary motor area, and secondary somatosensory area. The expectations of acupuncture stimulation exhibited a distinct experience of somatosensation as well as brain activations in insula and pre-supplementary motor area. Our findings suggest that the sensory experience of the pseudo-cutaneous stimulation may be derived from the predictive role of the salience network in monitoring internal and external body states.


Anterior insula; Expectation; Pre-supplementary motor area; Somatosensation; fMRI

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