Acupuncture may enhance the effect of antidepressant drugs by improving connectivity in brain networks involved in emotional processing and stress. In a Chinese/Korean/American research collaboration, 46 depressed female patients were randomised into either a verum acupuncture plus fluoxetine group, or a sham acupuncture plus fluoxetine group, for eight weeks. The abdominal acupuncture protocol used was: Zhongwan REN-12, Xiawan REN-10, Qihai REN-6, Guanyuan REN-4, Shangqu KID-17 (bilateral), Huaroumen ST-24 (bilateral), and Qipang M-CA-23 (bottom two points only), once a day for the first three days and then once every three days for the remainder of the eight-week trial. Sham treatment consisted of guide tubes without needles being tapped against the same points. Resting-state fMRI data were collected before the first and last treatments. Results showed that, compared with those in the sham acupuncture group, verum acupuncture patients showed greater clinical improvement. Increased resting state functional connectivity between the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex was positively associated with clinical improvement in the verum group.
Repeated acupuncture treatments modulate amygdala resting state functional connectivity of depressive patients. Neuroimage Clin. 2016 Jul 27;12:746-752.
The researchers also found that acupuncture had a positive effect on the brain’s motivation/reward circuitry in the same patient group. Previous studies have shown that this corticostriatal reward circuitry is associated with the pathophysiology of major depressive disorder. Increased resting state functional connectivity between the striatum and medial prefrontal cortex following verum acupuncture was significantly positively associated with decreased clinical depression scores.
Acupuncture treatment modulates the corticostriatal reward circuitry in major depressive disorder. J Psychiatr Res. 2017 Jan;84:18-26.