Background: Functional brain imaging changes have been proven as potential pathophysiological targets in early-stage Alzheimer’s Disease. Current longitudinal neuroimaging studies of Alzheimer’s Disease treated by acupuncture, which is one of the growingly acknowledged non-pharmacological interventions, have neither adopted comprehensive acupuncture protocols, nor explored the changes after a complete treatment duration. Thus, the mechanisms of acupuncture effects remain not fully investigated.
Objective: This study aimed to investigate the changes in spontaneous brain activity and functional connectivity and provide evidence for central mechanism of a 12-week acupuncture program on mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s Disease.
Methods: A total of forty-four patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s Disease and twenty-two age- and education-level-matched healthy subjects were enrolled in this study. The forty-four patients with Alzheimer’s Disease received a 12-week intervention of either acupuncture combined with Donepezil (the treatment group) or Donepezil alone (the control group). The two groups received two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans before and after treatment. The healthy subject group underwent no intervention, and only one fMRI scan was performed after enrollment.
The fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuation (fALFF) and functional connectivity (FC) were applied to analyze the imaging data. The correlations between the imaging indicators and the changed score of Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Section (ADAS-cog) were also explored.
Results: After the 12-week intervention, compared to those in the control group, patients with Alzheimer’s Disease in the treatment group scored significantly lower on ADAS-cog value. Moreover, compared to healthy subjects, the areas where the fALFF value decreased in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease were mainly located in the right inferior temporal gyrus, middle/inferior frontal gyrus, middle occipital gyrus, left precuneus, and bilateral superior temporal gyrus.
Compared with the control group, the right precuneus demonstrated the greatest changed value of fALFF after the intervention in the treatment group. The difference in ADAS-cog after interventions was positively correlated with the difference in fALFF value in the left temporal lobe. Right precuneus-based FC analysis showed that the altered FC by the treatment group compared to the control group was mainly located in the bilateral middle temporal gyrus.
Conclusion: The study revealed the key role of precuneus in the effect of the combination of acupuncture and Donepezil on mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s Disease for cognitive function, as well as its connection with middle temporal gyrus, which provided a potential treating target for Alzheimer’s Disease.