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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) changes and saliva production associated with acupuncture at LI-2 acupuncture point: a randomized controlled study

Gary Deng1*, Bob L Hou2, Andrei I Holodny2 and Barrie R Cassileth1

Author affiliations

1 Integrative Medicine Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1429 First Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA

2 Functional MRI Laboratory, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1429 First Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2008, 8:37  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-8-37

Published: 7 July 2008



Clinical studies suggest that acupuncture can stimulate saliva production and reduce xerostomia (dry mouth). We were interested in exploring the neuronal substrates involved in such responses.


In a randomized, sham acupuncture controlled, subject blinded trial, twenty healthy volunteers received true and sham acupuncture in random order. Cortical regions that were activated or deactivated during the interventions were evaluated by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Saliva production was also measured.


Unilateral manual acupuncture stimulation at LI-2, a point commonly used in clinical practice to treat xerostomia, was associated with bilateral activation of the insula and adjacent operculum. Sham acupuncture at an adjacent site induced neither activation nor deactivation. True acupuncture induced more saliva production than sham acupuncture.


Acupuncture at LI-2 was associated with neuronal activations absent during sham acupuncture stimulation. Neuroimaging signal changes appear correlated to saliva production.