Do the neural correlates of acupuncture and placebo effects differ?

  • Dhond R
  • Kettner N
  • Napadow V
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Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing modality with putative therapeutic
effects for clinical pain management. However, it is often dismissed
by mainstream allopathic medicine due to a paucity of data demonstrating
its neurophysiological differentiation from placebo. Functional neuroimaging
provides a means to determine which brain networks support acupuncture
as well as map the differences between its specific and non-specific
neural correlates. It is important to remember that although placebo
effects can occur with all forms of medical treatment their neurophysiological
basis may differ with the type of treatment being given. In general,
placebo effects are believed to arise from unconscious conditioning,
changes in (verbal) expectancy, and/or differences in practitioner
suggestion and patient suggestibility. However, these effects likely
overlap and there is strong evidence that expectancy is the major
contributor to increasing treatment efficacy. Thus, acupuncture specific
brain activity must at the least be differentiated from non-specific
activity supporting subject expectations for treatment. Additional
neuroimaging research may lead to a better understanding of acupuncture
mechanisms and help determine acupuncture's potential as a treatment
for chronic pain. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2008 APA, all rights

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