Acupuncture is clinically used to treat various diseases and exerts positive local and systemic effects in several nervous system diseases. Advanced molecular and clinical studies have continually attempted to decipher the mechanisms underlying these effects of acupuncture. While a growing understanding of the pathophysiology underlying several nervous system diseases shows it to be related to inflammation and impair cell regeneration after ischemic events, the relationship between the therapeutic mechanism of acupuncture and the p38 MAPK signal pathway has yet to be elucidated. This review discusses the latest advancements in the identification of the effect of acupuncture on the p38 signaling pathway in several nervous system diseases. We electronically searched databases including PubMed, Embase, and the Cochrane Library from their inception to April 2020, using the following keywords alone or in various combinations: “acupuncture”, “p38 MAPK pathway”, “signaling”, “stress response”, “inflammation”, “immune”, “pain”, “analgesic”, “cerebral ischemic injury”, “epilepsy”, “Alzheimer’s disease”, “Parkinson’s disease”, “dementia”, “degenerative”, and “homeostasis”. Manual acupuncture and electroacupuncture confer positive therapeutic effects by regulating proinflammatory cytokines, ion channels, scaffold proteins, and transcription factors including TRPV1/4, Nav
, BDNF, and NADMR1; consequently, p38 regulates various phenomena including cell communication, remodeling, regeneration, and gene expression. In this review article, we found the most common acupoints for the relief of nervous system disorders including GV20, GV14, ST36, ST37, and LI4. Acupuncture exhibits dual regulatory functions of activating or inhibiting different p38 MAPK pathways, contributing to an overall improvement of clinical symptoms and function in several nervous system diseases.
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