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Peripheral muscarinic receptors mediate the anti-inflammatory effects of auricular acupuncture

Wai Yeung Chung12, Hong Qi Zhang1 and Shi Ping Zhang1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Chinese Medicine, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong, China

2 School of Chinese Medicine and Health Care, The Chinese University of Hong Kong Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Community College, Homantin, Hong Kong, China

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Chinese Medicine 2011, 6:3  doi:10.1186/1749-8546-6-3

Published: 21 January 2011



The cholinergic and opioid systems play important roles in modulating inflammation. This study tests whether auricular acupuncture (AA) produces anti-inflammatory effects via opioid and peripheral cholinergic receptors in a rat model.


Rats were anesthetized with chloral hydrate and inflammation was induced by intraplantar injection of carrageenan. Electroacupuncture was performed at auricular points bilaterally. The severity of inflammation was assessed using changes in paw volume and thermal and mechanical pain thresholds of the rats during recovery from anesthesia.


Electroacupuncture at selected auricular acupoints significantly reduced paw edema and mechanical hyperalgesia, with no significant effect on thermal hyperalgesia. The anti-edematous and analgesic effects of AA were abolished by blockade of peripheral cholinergic muscarinic receptors with methyl atropine. Blockade of local muscarinic receptors at the inflamed site with a small dose of atropine also antagonized the anti-edematous effect of AA. By contrast, systemic opioid receptor blockade with naloxone did not antagonize the anti-inflammatory effects of AA.


This study discovers a role of peripheral muscarinic receptors in mediating the anti-inflammatory effects of AA. The cholinergic muscarinic mechanism appears to be more important than the opioid mechanism in the anti-inflammatory action of AA.