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Journal of Integrative Medicine ›› 2023, Vol. 21 ›› Issue (4): 397-406.doi: 10.1016/j.joim.2023.05.003

• Original Experimental Research • Previous Articles    

Electro-acupuncture promotes gut motility and alleviates functional constipation by regulating gut microbiota and increasing butyric acid generation in mice

Ming-min Xua,b, Yu Guob, Ying Chena, Wei Zhangc, Lu Wanga, Ying Lia   

  1. a. School of Acupuncture-Moxibustion and Tuina, Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chengdu 610075, Sichuan Province, China
    b. School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Jinan University, Guangzhou 510632, Guangdong Province, China
    c. Office of Educational Administration, Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chengdu 610075, Sichuan Province, China
  • Received:2021-12-22 Accepted:2023-03-17 Online:2023-07-17 Published:2023-06-13
  • Contact: Ying Li


Abnormalities in the gut microbiota and intestinal short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) levels are implicated in the pathogenesis of functional constipation (FC). Electro-acupuncture (EA) has been shown to improve constipation-related symptoms and rebalance the gut microbiota. However, it is currently unknown whether the gut microbiota is a key mechanistic target for EA or how EA promotes gut motility by regulating the gut microbiota and SCFAs. Therefore, we assessed the effects of EA in FC mice and pseudo-germfree (PGF) mice to address these questions.


Forty female Kunming mice were randomly separated into a normal control group (n = 8), an FC group (n = 8), an FC + EA group (n = 8), a PGF group (n = 8) and a PGF + EA group (n = 8). The FC group and FC + EA group were treated with diphenoxylate to establish the FC model; the PGF group and PGF + EA group were given an antibiotic cocktail to initiate the PGF model. After maintaining the model for 14 d, mice in the FC + EA and PGF + EA groups received EA stimulation at the ST25 and ST37 acupoints, once a day, 5 times per week, for 2 weeks. Fecal parameters and intestinal transit rate were calculated to assess the efficacy of EA on constipation and gastrointestinal motility. Colonic contents were used to quantify gut microbial diversity using 16S rRNA sequencing, and measure SCFA concentrations using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.


EA significantly shortened the first black stool defecation time (P < 0.05) and increased the intestinal transit rate (P < 0.01), and fecal pellet number (P < 0.05), wet weight (P < 0.05) and water content (P < 0.01) over 8 h, compared with the FC group, showing that EA promoted gut motility and alleviated constipation. However, EA treatment did not reverse slow-transit colonic motility in PGF mice (P > 0.05), demonstrating that the gut microbiota may play a mechanistic role in the EA treatment of constipation. In addition, EA treatment restored the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio and significantly increased butyric acid generation in FC mice (P < 0.05), most likely due to the upregulation of Staphylococcaceae microorganisms (P < 0.01).


EA-mediated resolution of constipation occurs through rebalancing the gut microbiota and promoting butyric acid generation.

Key words: Electro-acupuncture, Functional constipation, Gut microbiota, Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio, Intestinal short-chain fatty acid

[1] Jun-peng Yao, Li-ping Chen, Xian-jun Xiao, Ting-hui Hou, Si-yuan Zhou, Ming-min Xu, Kai Wang, Yu-jun Hou, Lin Zhang, Ying Li. Effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for treating functional constipation: An overview of systematic reviews. Journal of Integrative Medicine, 2022, 20(1): 13-25.
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