Varying Assay Geometry to Emulate Connective Tissue Planes in an In Vitro Model of Acupuncture Needling

Margaret Julias, Helen M. Buettner, David I. Shreiber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During traditional acupuncture, fine needles are inserted subcutaneously and rotated, which causes loose fascial tissue to wind around the needle. This coupling is stronger at acupuncture points, which tend to fall above intermuscular fascial planes, than control points, which lay above skeletal muscle. These different anatomical constraints may affect the mechanical coupling. Fascia at acupuncture points is bounded on two sides by skeletal muscle, but at control points is essentially unbounded. These differences were approximated in simple in vitro models. To emulate the narrower boundary within the intermuscular plane, type I collagen was cast in circular gels of different radii. To model the channel-like nature of these planes, collagen was cast in elliptical gels with major and minor axes matching the large and small circular gels, respectively, and in planar gels constrained on two sides. Acupuncture needles were inserted into the gels and rotated via a computer-controlled motor while capturing the evolution of fiber alignment under cross-polarization. Small circular gels aligned faster, but failed earlier than large circular gels. Rotation in elliptical and planar gels generated more alignment-per-revolution than circular gels. Planar gels were particularly resistant to failure. Fiber alignment in circular gels was isotropic, but was stronger in the direction of the minor axis in elliptical and planar gels. In fibroblast-populated gels, cells followed the alignment of the collagen fibers, and also became denser in regions of stronger alignment. These results suggest that the anatomy at acupuncture points provides unique boundaries that accentuate the mechanical response to needle manipulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-252
Number of pages10
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011


  • Acupuncture
  • Connective tissue
  • Fascia
  • Tissue mechanics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biotechnology
  • Anatomy
  • Histology


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