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Gender differences in the neural response to acupuncture: clinical implications


Objective To examine gender differences and similarities in the psychophysical and brain responses to acupuncture at GB34, a point that is frequently used to treat motor function issues in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Methods Functional MRI (fMRI) was used to measure brain activation in response to acupuncture at GB34 (on the right) in 19 healthy participants (9 male, 10 female). De qi sensations were rated to measure their psychophysical responses.

Results Overall de qi scores did not differ by gender, although females reported greater intensity of aching (p=0.04). Acupuncture activated the hippocampus, thalamus, globus pallidus, caudate body, claustrum, cingulate gyrus, and culmen in males, and the middle and inferior frontal gyrus, precuneus, postcentral gyrus, inferior parietal lobule, superior temporal gyrus, caudate body, insula, fusiform gyrus, cingulate gyrus, amygdala, and parahippocampal gyrus in females. The middle/medial frontal gyrus, middle temporal gyrus, thalamus, globus pallidus, caudate body, uvula, and cerebellar tonsil were activated when data from all subjects were combined. Relative to males, females exhibited greater brain activation in the right-sided postcentral gyrus, precentral gyrus, precuneus, postcentral gyrus, inferior parietal lobule, declive, middle occipital gyrus and parahippocampal gyrus.

Conclusions The neural effects of GB34 acupuncture might differ between males and females because different brain structures were modulated in response to acupuncture. This potential gender effect should be taken into account in future clinical research. We also revealed that the caudate body was activated by GB34 acupuncture in both males and females and may represent a major target of GB34 acupuncture.

Trial registration number KMC IRB 0861-06.


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