The Mapping between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Signaling Molecules

Yang Liu

Research output: Authored / edited bookEdited book (as editor)Academic researchpeer-review


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been applied in China and east Asia Countries for thousands of years. TCM considers that there exist vital substances in human body to regulate the physiological processes, for example, Qi, Yang Qi, Yin Qi, etc. The TCM diagnosis and therapeutic strategies are all based on the functions and interrelationships of these vital substances. The fundamental doctrinal source for TCM is “Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon” (YEIC, 黄帝内经 Huangdi Neijing). YEIC consists of two medical books, i.e., Su Wen Book (SW, 素问) and Ling Shu Book (LS, 灵枢). “Su Wen (素问)” means “Basic Questions”, and “Ling Shu (灵枢)” means “Miraculous Pivot”. Each book consists of 81 chapters. YEIC is the conversations between Yellow Emperor and Wise Men, and cover a broad range of topics, such as causes of various diseases, functions of meridians, treatment strategies, functions of TCM vital substances, etc.
In modern medicine, signaling molecules are the fundamental substances in human body, and the cascades of molecular signaling pathways trigger a series of physiological activities of human body. TCM and modern medicine use different terms but describe the same physiological functions in human body, and there should exist mappings between TCM and modern medicine. To find the mappings, we searched each TCM vital substance in YEIC, and listed their physiological functions and interrelationships; then searched the signaling molecule that could match these physiological functions. We identified 48 mappings between TCM vital substances and signaling molecules. For each mapping, the physiological functions are the same; the interrelationships among different TCM vital substances are also the same as the signaling pathways of corresponding molecules; the specific TCM herbal medicine have the same effect on this TCM vital substance and corresponding molecule. By applying these mappings, we analysed the TCM causes of arthritis, diabetes, and constipation and their corresponding TCM treatment strategies, and demonstrated that the causes of diseases and treatment strategies between TCM and modern medicine are the same. These mappings also enable us to understand some TCM syndromes, including “Consumptive-Thirsty Syndrome (消渴症)”, “Heat Central Syndrome (热中症)”, etc.
These 48 TCM substances are TCM Essence (精), TCM Mind (神), TCM Ethereal Soul (魂), TCM Corporeal Soul (魄), TCM Ideation (意), TCM Will (志), TCM Thin Fluid (津), TCM Thick Fluid (液), Qi (气), Yang Qi (阳气), Yin Qi (阴气), Zong Qi (宗气), Glory Qi (荣气), Nutrient Qi (营气), Defending Qi (卫气), Heart Qi (心气), Spleen Qi (脾气), Lung Qi (肺气), Kidney Qi (肾气), Liver Qi (肝气), Cold Qi (寒气), Damp Qi (湿气), Dry Qi (燥气), Heat Qi (热气), Wind Qi (风气), Summerheat Qi (暑气), Clear Qi (清气), Turbid Qi (浊气), Righteous Qi (正气), Evil Qi (邪气), Genuine Qi (真气), Blood Qi (血气), Stomach Qi (胃气), Essence Qi (精气), Indulged Qi (淫气), Mind Qi (神气), Consumption (消), Central (中), Heart Yang (心阳), Heart Yin (心阴), Spleen Yang (脾阳), Spleen Yin (脾阴), Lung Yang (肺阳), Lung Yin (肺阴), Kidney Yang (肾阳), Kidney Yin (肾阴), Liver Yang (肝阳), Liver Yin (肝阴). Besides these 48 TCM substances, YEIC also mentioned other TCM substances, such as Yang Essence (Yang Jing, 阳精), Yin Essence (Yin Jing, 阴精), Shape Qi (形气), etc. However, the physiological functions of these TCM vital substances are not sufficient to identify their mappings.
As YEIC was written in ancient Chinese, we need dual translations to prepare this book, i.e., one from ancient Chinese to modern Chinese, and the other from modern Chinese to English. For ease reference and check, we keep the original ancient Chinese sentences in the text, and try our best to translate them into English as the original meaning, therefore, some translated English sentence may not form a complete sentence.
YEIC covers a broad range of topics. This book is only a small step for bridging TCM and modern medicines. We believe that the communication and mutual support between eastern and western medicines would provide a thorough understanding of human physiology and enable more effective treatment of abnormal or disease states.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCambridge Scholars Publishing
Number of pages625
ISBN (Electronic)ISBN13: 978-1-5275-8574-4
ISBN (Print)ISBN: 1-5275-8574-3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • Chinese medicine
  • Signaling pathways
  • diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Yellow Emperor Inner Canon
  • mapping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Health Professions(all)


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