Background The effect of acupuncture treatment in cerebral ischaemia is controversial. A study was undertaken to assess its effects in rats with transient middle cerebral artery occlusion (tMCAO) and discuss its mechanisms.
Methods 21 Sprague–Dawley rats were divided into three groups. Group 1 underwent tMCAO and subsequently received acupuncture treatment, Group 2 underwent tMCAO without treatment and Group 3 only underwent sham operation. The evolution of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) features in ischaemic lesions from acute to chronic periods was assessed and the correlations with behavioural tests and histopathological changes were examined.
Results tMCAO rats displayed side-specific sensorimotor deficits after occlusion. Behavioural scores of rats in group 1 reduced gradually with acupuncture treatment. No significant difference in lesion size on T2-weighted imaging was found between the two tMCAO groups. Relative apparent diffusion coefficient (rADC) and relative fractional anisotropy (rFA) values in the centre and at the edge of the ischaemic lesions reduced at first and then increased to varying degrees. Only changes in the rFA value at the edge of the ischaemic lesions were significantly different between the two tMCAO groups. A more significant increase in growth-associated protein B-50 and synaptophysin protein expression was found in group 1 than in the other groups. No significant correlations were found between behavioural scores, DTI appearances and immunohistochemical results.
Conclusions The acupuncture points applied were effective, and improving neuronal regeneration may have a role in the mechanism of acupuncture treatment of post-stroke paralysis of the limbs in rats. MRI, particularly the fractional anisotropy value of DTI, is an appropriate parameter to evaluate the recovery status.
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