Harvard Study Finds Acupuncture Can Tame Cytokine Storms in Mice

Posted On: August 26th, 2020

Amelia Knowlton

Harvard Study Finds Acupuncture Can Tame Cytokine Storms in Mice

A new study from researchers led by neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School found that acupuncture can successfully tame cytokine storms in mice with systemic inflammation.

Acupuncture is a component of the ancient practice of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). TCM practitioners believe the human body has over 2,000 acupuncture points connected by pathways or meridians. These pathways create a flow of energy (known as Qi) through the body that is responsible for overall health. When this energy flow is disrupted, disease can occur. By stimulating acupoints on the body, it is thought to improve the flow of Qi, thereby improving health.

The study, published on August 12th in Neuron, shows that acupuncture activated different signaling pathways that triggered either a pro-inflammatory or an anti-inflammatory response in animals with bacterially induced systemic inflammation.

The scientists warn that observations must be confirmed in future research and the optimal parameters for acupuncture stimulation must be clearly defined. According to study principal investigator Qiufu Ma, professor of neurobiology in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and a researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, “Our findings represent an important step in ongoing efforts not only to understand the neuroanatomy of acupuncture but to identify ways to incorporate it into the treatment arsenal of inflammatory diseases, including sepsis.”

Osher Research Affiliate and acupuncturist Dr. Weidong Lu weighed in on the study. “Professor Ma’s finding reveals novel neurological mechanisms of acupuncture that may help guide the clinical applications of acupuncture for inflammatory conditions.” According to Dr. Lu, “the study shows that the different acupuncture needling sites and treatment intensity can have meaningful physiological impact.” These outcomes represent an encouraging step towards defining the neuroanatomical mechanisms associated with acupuncture and offer a framework for using acupuncture for the treatment of inflammatory diseases.


Ekaterina Pesheva, Quieting the Storm. Harvard Medical School News and Research. Aug 12 2020