Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy that has been found useful for treating various diseases. The treatments involve the insertion of fine needles at acupoints along specific meridians (meridian specificity). This study aims to investigate the metabolic basis of meridian specificity using proton nuclear magnetic resonance (1H NMR)-based metabolomics. Electro-acupuncture (EA) stimulations were performed at acupoints of either Stomach Meridian of Foot-Yangming (SMFY) or Gallbladder Meridian of Foot-Shaoyang (GMFS) in healthy male Sprague Dawley (SD) rats. 1H-NMR spectra datasets of serum, urine, cortex, and stomach tissue extracts from the rats were analysed by multivariate statistical analysis to investigate metabolic perturbations due to EA treatments at different meridians. EA treatment on either the SMFY or GMFS acupoints induced significant variations in 31 metabolites, e.g., amino acids, organic acids, choline esters and glucose. Moreover, a few meridian-specific metabolic changes were found for EA stimulations on the SMFY or GMFS acupoints. Our study demonstrated significant metabolic differences in response to EA stimulations on acupoints of SMFY and GMFS meridians. These results validate the hypothesis that meridian specificity in acupuncture is detectable in the metabolome and demonstrate the feasibility and effectiveness of a metabolomics approach in understanding the mechanism of acupuncture.
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