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Open Access Research article

Therapeutic effect and mechanism of electroacupuncture at Zusanli on plasticity of interstitial cells of Cajal: a study of rat ileum

Mei-fang Peng12, Kun Li1, Chao Wang1, Xiao-yan Zhu1, Zheng Yang3, Guo-hu Zhang4, Pei-hong Wang4, Yong-hua Wang4, Li-jun Tang4 and Lin Zhang4*

Author Affiliations

1 Basic Laboratory for PLA medical center, Chengdu General Hospital of Chengdu Military Area Command, Chengdu 610083, China

2 Insititute of Biotechnology and Nuclear Technology, Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Chengdu 610061, China

3 Department of Preclinical Medicine, Chengdu Medical College, Chengdu 610500, China

4 Center of General Surgery, Chengdu General Hospital of Chengdu Military Area Command, 270 Rongdu Rd.,Tianhui Town, Jinniu District, Chengdu 610083, China

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014, 14:186  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-186

Published: 7 June 2014



Electroacupuncture (EA) is one of the techniques of acupuncture and is believed to be an effective alternative and complementary treatment in many disorders. The aims of this study were to investigate the effects and mechanisms of EA at acupoint Zusanli (ST36) on the plasticity of interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs) in partial bowel obstruction.


A Sprague Dawley rat model of partial bowel obstruction was established and EA was conducted at Zusanli (ST36) and Yinglingquan (SP9) in test and control groups, respectively. Experiments were performed to study the effects and mechanisms of EA at Zusanli on intestinal myoelectric activity, distribution and alteration of ICCs, expression of inflammatory mediators, and c-Kit expression.


1) EA at Zusanli somewhat improved slow wave amplitude and frequency in the partial obstruction rats. 2) EA at Zusanli significantly stimulated the recovery of ICC networks and numbers. 3) the pro-inflammatory mediator TNF-α and NO activity were significantly reduced after EA at Zusanli, However, no significant changes were observed in the anti-inflammatory mediator IL-10 activity. 4) EA at Zusanli re-expressed c-Kit protein. However, EA at the control acupoint, SP9, significantly improved slow wave frequency and amplitude, but had no effect on ICC or inflammatory mediators.


We concluded that EA at Zusanli might have a therapeutic effect on ICC plasticity, and that this effect might be mediated via a decrease in pro-inflammatory mediators and through the c-Kit signaling pathway, but that the relationship between EA at different acupoints and myoelectric activity needs further study.

Electroacupuncture; Plasticity; DOG1; Inflammatory mediators; c-Kit signaling