Neural Activation via Acupuncture in Patients With Major Depressive Disorder: A Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Study

Tingyu Zhang, Jiaqi Zhang, Jiaxi Huang, Zhong Zheng, Pu Wang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Objective: Acupuncture is used as an alternative treatment for patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). The associated therapeutic effect of acupuncture is often attributed to its modulatory effect on the activity of the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), although the mechanism is not well-studied. We employed a repeated measures design to investigate the brain modulatory effect of acupuncture on the PFC in a group of patients with MDD and investigated whether the modulatory effect is influenced by the severity of the disease. Methods: A total of 47 patients diagnosed with MDD were enrolled in this functional near-infrared spectroscopy experiment. The severity of depressive symptoms was measured at baseline using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale-24 (HAMD). The cortical activation in the bilateral PFC areas during a verbal fluency task (VFT) was measured before and after a single session of acupuncture in the Baihui acupoint. We further explored the potential correlation between the severity of MDD and task-related activation before and after acupuncture. Results: A single session of acupuncture significantly tended to enhance the activation level of the left frontopolar cortex in patients with severe depression during VFT, but a null effect was found in those with mild to moderate depression. Among patients with severe depression, a strong correlation was observed between HAMD scores and the change in VFT-related activation after acupuncture in the left dorsolateral PFC (DLPFC). Conclusion: A single session of acupuncture did not significantly modulate the activation of the left PFC in patients with mild to moderate depression; however, it demonstrated a tendency to enhance the activation of the frontopolar area in patients with severe depression. Among patients with severe depression, there is a correlation between the activation by acupuncture of left DLPFC during executive functioning and the severity of depressive symptoms, suggesting that the brain activity induced by acupuncture is likely to be influenced by the baseline disease severity in patients with MDD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number669533
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2021


  • acupuncture
  • functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)
  • major depressive disorder
  • neuroplasticity
  • pre-frontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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