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J Biomed Sci. 2019 May 11;26(1):36. doi: 10.1186/s12929-019-0526-9.

Short-term auricular electrical stimulation rapidly elevated cortical blood flow and promoted the expression of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor α4 in the 2 vessel occlusion rats model.

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Graduate Institute of Acupuncture Science, College of Chinese Medicine, China Medical University, Taichung, 40402, Taiwan.
Chinese Medicine Research Center, China Medical University, Taichung, 40402, Taiwan.
Graduate Institute of Applied Science and Engineering, Fu Jen Catholic University, New Taipei City, 510, Taiwan.
Chinese Medicine Research Center, China Medical University, Taichung, 40402, Taiwan.
Graduate Institute of Integrated Medicine, College of Chinese Medicine, China Medical University, 91 Hsueh-Shih Road, Taichung, 40402, Taiwan.
Department of Chinese Medicine, China Medical University Hospital, Taichung, 40447, Taiwan.
Research Center for Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, China Medical Univeristy, Taichung, 40402, Taiwan.



Vascular dementia is the second dementing illness after Alzheimer's disease and caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, and affects cognitive abilities. Our previous study found that auricular electrical stimulation (ES) improved motor and learning impairment, and this phenomenon related with nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) expressed cells. However, the underlying mechanism was not clear. In the present study, we investigated the effects of auricular ES on cortical blood flow (CBF) and acetylcholine (ACh) - nAChRs expressed cells.


Vascular dementia rat animal model was established by permanent occlusions of common carotid arteries with 6-0 nylon suture filament. At 21 day after surgery, motor impairment was confirmed by rotarod test. 15-Hz auricular ES were applied to the ears for 20 min and CBF was recorded at the mean time. The brains were immediately dissected for immunohistochemical stain and western blot analysis.


Our results showed that 15-Hz auricular ES rapidly elevated CBF in the middle cerebral artery. The numbers of nAChR α4 immuno-positive cells and western blot levels were significally increased by 15-Hz auricular ES in the hippocampal CA2 output cortex. The numbers of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) - a key enzyme for biosynthesis of ACh - immuno-positive cells and western blot levels had no significant differences.


The present data suggested that the 15-Hz auricular ES for 20 min rapidly elevated cortical blood flow, promoted the expression of nAChR α4, and would be beneficial for the treatment of Alzheimer type and vascular type dementia.


Acetylcholine receptor; Auricular electrical stimulation; Bilateral carotid artery occlusion; Cerebral blood flow; Dementia

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