The incidence and disability rate of spinal cord injury worldwide are high, imposing a heavy burden on patients. Considerable research efforts have been directed toward identifying new strategies to effectively treat SCI. Governor Vessel electro-acupuncture, used in traditional Chinese medicine, combines acupuncture with modern electrical stimulation. It has been shown to improve the microenvironment of injured spinal cord by increasing levels of endogenous neurotrophic factors and reducing inflammation, thereby protecting injured neurons and promoting myelination.
In addition, axons extending from transplanted stem cell-derived neurons can potentially bridge the two severed ends of tissues in a transected spinal cord to rebuild neuronal circuits and restore motor and sensory functions. However, every single treatment approach to severe spinal cord injury has proven unsatisfactory.
Combining different treatments-for example, electro-acupuncture with adult stem cell transplantation-appears to be a more promising strategy. In this review, we have summarized the recent progress over the past two decades by our team especially in the use of Governor Vessel electro-acupuncture for the repair of spinal cord injury. By this strategy, we have shown that electro-acupuncture can stimulate the nerve endings of the meningeal branch. This would elicit the dorsal root ganglion neurons to secrete excess amounts of calcitonin gene-related peptide centrally in the spinal cord.
The neuropeptide then activates the local cells to secrete neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), which mediates the survival and differentiation of donor stem cells overexpressing the NT-3 receptor, at the injury/graft site of the spinal cord. Increased local production of NT-3 facilitates reconstruction of host neural tissue such as nerve fiber regeneration and myelination. All this events in sequence would ultimately strengthen the cortical motor-evoked potentials and restore the motor function of paralyzed limbs.
The information presented herein provides a basis for future studies on the clinical application of Governor Vessel electro-acupuncture and adult stem cell transplantation for the treatment of spinal cord injury.