Understanding the extracellular signalling system associated with acupuncture
Traditional Chinese medicine theory explains that acupuncture works along meridian points that allow vital energy, or qi, to flow.
A more recent hypothesis suggests that the effectiveness of acupuncture is related to an extracellular signalling system. The theory suggests that Adenosine 5’-triphosphate (ATP) acts as an “extracellular signalling molecule between the cells.” The messages that the ATP carries are received by receptors that the theory’s author calls purinoceptors.
Research has suggested that inserting and twisting a needle could release ATP from the skin, leading to the physiological roots of the effects of acupuncture, and that ATP can be released from many cell types. ATP is also released in association with electrical currents and heat, two components that are often use dinc conjunction with acupuncture to magnify its effect.
Regarding pain, it’s believed that the binding of ATP may activate “a signalling pathway” that eventually modulates how pain is perceived by the brain’s cortex. These ATP-activated nerves can also modulate brain stems that control a variety of nervous system functions (including in the gut, the lungs, and in the cardiovascular system) which have long been the focus of traditional acupuncture treatments.
The author concludes by suggesting an array of experiments that could test this extracellular signalling hypothesis.