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In Frontiers in aging neuroscience ; h5-index 64.0

Background : As a non-pharmacological therapy, acupuncture has significant efficacy in treating Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) compared to pharmacological therapies. In recent years, advances in neuroimaging techniques have provided new perspectives to elucidate the central mechanisms of acupuncture for MCI. Many acupuncture brain imaging studies have found significant improvements in brain function after acupuncture treatment of MCI, but the underlying mechanisms of brain regions modulation are unclear.

Objective : A meta-analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies of MCI patients treated with acupuncture was conducted to summarize the effects of acupuncture on the modulation of MCI brain regions from a neuroimaging perspective.

Methods : Using acupuncture, neuroimaging, magnetic resonance, and Mild Cognitive Impairment as search terms, PubMed, EMBASE, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE), Google Scholar, China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), China Biology Medicine disk (CBM disk), Wanfang and Chinese Scientific Journal Database (VIP) for brain imaging studies on acupuncture on MCI published up to April 2022. Voxel-based neuroimaging meta-analysis of fMRI data was performed using voxel-based d Mapping with Permutation of Subject Images (SDM-PSI), allowing for Family-Wise Error Rate (FWER) correction correction for correction multiple comparisons of results. Subgroup analysis was used to compare the differences in brain regions between the acupuncture treatment group and other control groups. Meta-regression was used to explore demographic information and altered cognitive function effects on brain imaging outcomes. Linear models were drawn using MATLAB 2017a, and visual graphs for quality evaluation were produced using R software and RStudio software.

Results : A total of seven studies met the inclusion criteria, with 94 patients in the treatment group and 112 patients in the control group. All studies were analyzed using the regional homogeneity (ReHo) method. The experimental design of fMRI included six task state studies and one resting-state study. The meta-analysis showed that MCI patients had enhanced activity in the right insula, left anterior cingulate/paracingulate gyri, right thalamus, right middle frontal gyrus, right median cingulate/paracingulate gyri, and right middle temporal gyrus brain regions after acupuncture treatment. Further analysis of RCT and longitudinal studies showed that Reho values were significantly elevated in two brain regions, the left anterior cingulate/paracingulate gyrus and the right insula, after acupuncture. The MCI group showed stronger activity in the right supramarginal gyrus after acupuncture treatment compared to healthy controls. Meta-regression analysis showed that the right anterior thalamic projection ReHo index was significantly correlated with the MMSE score after acupuncture treatment in all MCI patients.

Conclusions : Acupuncture therapy has a modulating effect on the brain regions of MCI patients. However, due to the inadequate experimental design of neuroimaging studies, multi-center neuroimaging studies with large samples are needed better to understand the potential neuroimaging mechanisms of acupuncture for MCI. In addition, machine learning algorithm-based predictive models for evaluating the efficacy of acupuncture for MCI may become a focus of future research.

Systematic review registration :, identifier: CRD 42022287826.

Ma Shiqi, Huang Haipeng, Zhong Zhen, Zheng Haizhu, Li Mengyuan, Yao Lin, Yu Bin, Wang Hongfeng


acupuncture, brain regions modulation, functional magnetic resonance imaging, meta-analysis, mild cognitive impairment