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Acupunct Med 31:57-64 doi:10.1136/acupmed-2012-010173
  • Original paper

Effect of auricular acupuncture on gastrointestinal motility and its relationship with vagal activity

  1. Yin-Ping Wang
  1. Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Jiangsu Province Hospital, The First Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing Medical University, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China
  1. Correspondence to Yin-Ping Wang, Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Jiangsu Province Hospital, The First Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing Medical University, No. 300 Guangzhou Road, Nanjing, Jiangsu 210029, China; karham1987{at}gmail.com
  • Received 6 April 2012
  • Revised 26 October 2012
  • Accepted 2 November 2012
  • Published Online First 4 December 2012

Abstract

Background Vagus nerve stimulation is capable of regulating autonomic nerve function. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the effect of auricular acupuncture (AA) is mediated by the vagus. This study was designed to investigate the effect of AA on gastrointestinal (GI) motility and the relationship of this effect with the vagus nerve.

Methods 50 rats were divided into five groups for observation of the effects of different types of acupuncture and influencing factors: control, AA, somatic acupuncture (SA), atropine and atropine+AA. The acupuncture points used for AA were ST (Stomach) and SI (Small intestine), while the acupuncture point used for SA was ST36. Electroacupuncture was performed for 15 min. A model of reduced GI motility was established using ethanol, and GI transit rate was used to measure GI motility. Heart rate variability (HRV) and the effect of atropine administration were investigated to study the relationship between AA and vagal activity.

Results The GI transit rate increased in both the AA and SA groups compared with control, and no significant difference was found between their effects. In addition, after atropine administration, AA was found to be ineffective in influencing the GI transit rate. In the HRV analysis, no significant differences were found in the absolute low frequency normalised units, high frequency normalised units or the low frequency/high frequency component ratio in the AA or SA groups compared with control. After administration of atropine AA still had no effect on HRV.

Conclusions The function of AA in improving GI motility is similar to that of SA, and this effect can be blocked by the presence of atropine, indicating that this effect is regulated by the vagus. However, HRV did not reflect the acupuncture-induced changes in vagal nerve function.