Acupuncture activates sciatic nerve, controls systemic inflammation, and rescues mice from polymicrobial peritonitis.

Dopamine Mediates the Vagal Modulation of the Immune System by Electroacupuncture

Rafael Torres-Rosas1,2,3, Ghassan Yehia1, Geber Peña1, Priya Mishra1, Maria del Rocio Thompson-Bonilla1,4, Mario Adán Moreno-Eutimio5, Lourdes Andrea Arriaga-Pizano2, Armando Isibasi2, and Luis Ulloa1,6
Nat Med. 2014 March ; 20(3): 291–295. doi:10.1038/nm.3479.

Abstract: Previous anti-inflammatory strategies against sepsis, a leading cause of death in hospitals, had limited efficacy in clinical trials, in part because they targeted single cytokines and the experimental models failed to mimic clinical settings1-3 . Neuronal networks represent physiological mechanisms selected by evolution to control inflammation that can be exploited for the treatment of inflammatory and infectious disorders3 . Here, we report that sciatic nerve activation with electroacupuncture controls systemic inflammation and rescues mice from polymicrobial peritonitis. Electroacupuncture at the sciatic nerve controls systemic inflammation by inducing a vagal activation of DOPA decarboxylase leading to the production of dopamine in the adrenal medulla. Experimental models with adrenolectomized animals mimic clinical adrenal insufficiency4 , increase the susceptibility to sepsis, and prevent the anti-inflammatory potential of electroacupuncture. Dopamine inhibits cytokine production via dopaminergic type-1 receptors. Dopaminergic D1-agonists suppress systemic inflammation and rescue mice from polymicrobial peritonitis in animals with adrenal insufficiency. Our results suggest a novel anti-inflammatory mechanism mediated by the sciatic and the vagus nerves modulating the production of catecholamines in the adrenal glands. From a pharmacological perspective, selective dopaminergic agonists mimic the anti-inflammatory potential of electroacupuncture and can provide therapeutic advantages to control inflammation in infectious and inflammatory disorders.