USF-China study: Acupuncture may treat hypertension through antioxidant effects

Written by Anne DeLotto Baier · November 3, 2012

Animal-model research examines molecular mechanisms for blood-pressure lowering effect of ancient Chinese therapy

An increase in antioxidant enzymes triggered by acupuncture appeared to play a role in reducing high blood pressure in hypertensive rats treated with the ancient Chinese therapy, a study by researchers at the University of South Florida College of Pharmacy and Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine found.

The study findings were reported online last month in the biomedical journal PLoS ONE.

“The data clearly show that acupuncture can modulate the expression of enzymes involved in processes that may protect against free radical damage to blood vessel walls,” said Shufeng Zhou, MD, PhD, associate vice president of Global Medical Development at USF Health and professor and associate dean of International Research at the USF College of Pharmacy.  “We need to know the molecular mechanisms for acupuncture to determine the best ways to use it.”

Acupuncture has been an integral part of Chinese medicine for at least 2,500 years.  Although still somewhat controversial in mainstream Western medicine, it has become one of the most widely practiced forms of alternative medicine in the United States.  More than 2 million Americans report recent use of acupuncture for conditions ranging from chronic pain to osteoarthritis and migraines.

Acupuncture involves inserting very thin needles to stimulate various “acupoints” on the body associated with specific energy pathways or meridians. It’s based on the theory that illness can result when the body’s free flow of energy, called ‘Qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’), becomes disrupted or blocked.  Acupuncture is thought to restore health by restoring the body’s energy balance.

In the USF-Guangzhou study, hypertensive rats that had been acclimated to gentle handling and blood pressure measurements were randomized to receive either acupuncture (performed by a Chinese doctor trained in acupuncture), a sham procedure, or no treatment at all.

For seven days the rats receiving acupuncture were administered a daily 5-minute treatment, which stimulated the “Taichong” acupoint located between the first and second metatarsal bones at top of the foot.  The sham procedure followed the same protocol, including needle insertion, but the insertion point was not one of the precise sites prescribed by traditional Chinese medicine for treating blood pressure.

At the end of the study, the group of Taichong-treated rats had significantly lower blood pressures than either the group receiving sham acupuncture or the untreated group. The reduction was not enough to bring the blood pressure down to normal levels.

The researchers also examined the part of the brain involved in regulating blood pressure. They found that decreased expression of seven proteins in the acupuncture-treated rats’ brains was accompanied by an increase in six antioxidant enzymes.

The researchers suggest that the blood pressure-lowering effect of acupuncture may be partially explained by an overall decrease in cellular oxidative stress prompted by a boost in enzymes that help clear toxins called free radicals from the body.  However, they emphasize more studies are needed to further investigate the effects of oxidative stress regulation by acupuncture in the long-term treatment of blood pressure.

The study was supported by the National 973 program of China, the Natural Science Foundation of China, and USF College of Pharmacy startup fund.

Article citation:
“Proteomic Response to Acupuncture Treatment in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats,” Xinsheng Lai, Jiayou Wang, Neel R. Nabar, Sanqiang Pan, Chunzhi Tang, Yong Huang, Mufeng Hao, Zhonghua Yang, Chunmei Ma, Jin Zhang, Helen Chew, Zhenquan He, Junjun Yang, Baogui Su, Jian Zhang, Jun Liang, Kevin B. Sneed, and Shu-Feng Zhou, PLoS ONE  7(9): e44216. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044216.

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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Proteomic Response to Acupuncture Treatment in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats

Abstract 

Previous animal and clinical studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective alternative treatment in the management of hypertension, but the mechanism is unclear. This study investigated the proteomic response in the nervous system to treatment at the Taichong (LR3) acupoint in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRs). Unanesthetized rats were subject to 5-min daily acupuncture treatment for 7 days. Blood pressure was monitored over 7 days. After euthanasia on the 7th day, rat medullas were dissected, homogenized, and subject to 2D gel electrophoresis and MALDI-TOF analysis. The results indicate that blood pressure stabilized after the 5th day of acupuncture, and compared with non-acupoint treatment, Taichong-acupunctured rat’s systolic pressure was reduced significantly (P<0.01), though not enough to bring blood pressure down to normal levels. The different treatment groups also showed differential protein expression: the 2D images revealed 571±15 proteins in normal SD rats’ medulla, 576±31 proteins in SHR’s medulla, 597±44 proteins in medulla of SHR after acupuncturing Taichong, and 616±18 proteins in medulla of SHR after acupuncturing non-acupoint. In the medulla of Taichong group, compared with non-acupoint group, seven proteins were down-regulated: heat shock protein-90, synapsin-1, pyruvate kinase isozyme, NAD-dependent deacetylase sirtuin-2, protein kinase C inhibitor protein 1, ubiquitin hydrolase isozyme L1, and myelin basic protein. Six proteins were up-regulated: glutamate dehydrogenase 1, aldehyde dehydrogenase 2, glutathione S-transferase M5, Rho GDP dissociation inhibitor 1, DJ-1 protein and superoxide dismutase. The altered expression of several proteins by acupuncture has been confirmed by ELISA, Western blot and qRT-PCR assays. The results indicate an increase in antioxidant enzymes in the medulla of the SHRs subject to acupuncture, which may provide partial explanation for the antihypertensive effect of acupuncture. Further studies are warranted to investigate the role of oxidative stress modulation by acupuncture in the treatment of hypertension.

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Research article in a pdf file for personal use

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ResearchBlogging.org

Anne DeLotto Baier (2012).
USF-China study: Acupuncture may treat hypertension through antioxidant effects
University of South Florida

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Πραγματείες και δοκίμια ποικίλης θεματολογίας

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