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Acupuncture Activates Mitochondrial Pathways

by Acupuncture Journal Staff

TL;DR: Acupuncture has been shown to activate specific mitochondrial pathways, such as those involving Bcl-2, Bax, and Caspase-3, which are key factors in regulating cell survival and apoptosis. By modulating these factors, acupuncture can promote cell survival and tissue repair. Additionally, acupuncture indirectly affects mitochondrial pathways through its influence on the p38MAPK pathway, which is involved in inflammation and cell differentiation.

Acupuncture provides therapeutic and preventive effects on various conditions, including the modulation of signaling pathways in the body. This article will explore how acupuncture activates mitochondrial pathways, specifically in the context of cellular processes such as apoptosis, survival, proliferation, and migration.

Acupuncture and Mitochondrial Pathways

Mitochondrial pathways play a critical role in the regulation of cellular processes, including energy production, cell growth, and cell death. The pathways involve several key factors such as B cell lymphocytoma-2 (Bcl-2), Bcl-2-associated X protein (Bax), and apoptosis-associated protein cysteine protease 3 (Caspase-3) that help maintain cellular homeostasis (Zhang et al., 2014). By modulating these pathways, acupuncture may positively impact cell survival and tissue repair.

Acupuncture’s Effects on Mitochondrial Pathways

Research suggests that acupuncture can impact the mitochondrial signaling pathway by regulating the balance between Bcl-2 and Bax, two factors that control apoptosis. When Bcl-2 levels increase and Bax levels decrease, the survival of cells is promoted, and apoptosis is inhibited. Conversely, when Bcl-2 levels decrease and Bax levels increase, apoptosis is promoted (Zhang et al., 2014).

Caspase-3 is another key factor in the mitochondrial pathway that is influenced by acupuncture. As the final executor of apoptosis, Caspase-3 is activated in response to pro-apoptotic signals, leading to cell death. Acupuncture has been shown to inhibit Caspase-3 activation, thereby promoting cell survival and tissue repair (Zhang et al., 2014).

In addition to its direct effects on mitochondrial pathways, acupuncture may also impact these pathways indirectly through its influence on the p38MAPK pathway. The p38MAPK pathway is involved in the regulation of various cellular processes, such as inflammation and cell differentiation. By inhibiting cytokine production in the p38MAPK pathway, acupuncture can indirectly modulate the mitochondrial route, preventing chondrocyte death and promoting tissue repair (Liao et al., 2016; Liu J. W. et al., 2021).

Potential Applications and Future Research

The activation of mitochondrial pathways by acupuncture offers exciting possibilities for various medical conditions, particularly those involving tissue repair and regeneration. By promoting cell survival and inhibiting apoptosis, acupuncture may have the potential to enhance the body’s natural healing processes and improve overall health.

Further research is needed to fully understand the complex mechanisms by which acupuncture activates mitochondrial pathways and the potential clinical applications of these findings. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses can help identify gaps in research, reduce duplication of studies, and provide evidence-based insights for future clinical studies (Ritskes-Hoitinga et al., 2014; Murphy and Murphy, 2010).


In summary, acupuncture’s activation of mitochondrial pathways offers promising therapeutic and preventive potential in various medical conditions. By inhibiting cytokine production in the p38MAPK pathway and regulating cytokines in the mitochondrial route, acupuncture may promote cell survival, inhibit apoptosis, and improve tissue repair. Further research is essential to expand our understanding of these mechanisms and to explore their clinical applications.


  1. Zhang, T., Zhao, J., Li, X., & Ding, S. (2014). The effect of Bax and Bcl-2 on mitochondrial apoptosis pathway. Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, 18(10), 1951-1961.
  2. Liao, H., Li, X., Zhao, L., Chen, J., Yang, Z., & Lin, J. (2016). The role of the p38MAPK signaling pathway in the anti-inflammatory effect of electroacupuncture in the local skin of humans. Acupuncture in Medicine, 34(4), 294-299.
  3. Liu, J. W., Chen, Y. Q., Chen, X. M., Huang, H. S., Wu, Y. X., Yang, S. B., … & Yan, J. (2021). Mechanism of electroacupuncture in regulating the balance of MMPs/TIMPs and p38MAPK pathway to promote angiogenesis after cerebral ischemia. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, 27(2), 114-120.
  4. Ritskes-Hoitinga, M., Wever, K. E., & Hooijmans, C. R. (2014). Systematic reviews of preclinical animal studies can make significant contributions to health care and more transparent translational medicine. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 3, ED000078.
  5. Murphy, S., & Murphy, D. (2010). How to do a systematic review. Surgery (Oxford), 28(9), 474-479.

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