We have previously reported that acupuncture may regulate the immune system and activate cellular and humoral immunity. In this study, we examined the effects of acupuncture treatment on lymphocyte subsets, intracellular cytokine production, and the catecholamine levels in human peripheral blood in order to elucidate the relationships between the immune system, the autonomic nervous system, and the endocrine system. We sampled peripheral blood from 10 healthy volunteers（age, 20.6 ± 1.6 years）before and 1 day after acupuncture, at the same time on each day, and determined the total and differential leukocyte counts and the levels of 3 catecholamines （adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine）. Further, using flow cytometry, we analyzed the lymphocyte subsets and cells producing the intracellular cytokines interferon（IFN）-γ, interleukin（IL）-4, and IL-1β.
The leukocyte and granulocyte counts significantly decreased after acupuncture（p < 0.05）. The number of CD4＋ cells also significantly decreased（p < 0.01）, whereas that of CD8＋ cells significantly increased（p < 0.01）; the CD56＋/CD3− natural killer（NK）cell and CD11b＋ cell counts also tended to increase. Moreover, the number of IFN-γ-, IL-4-, and IL-1β-producing cells significantly increased（p < 0.01）, and the cell count of IFN-γ-producing cells was the highest. The levels of the 3 catecholamines, in particular adrenaline and noradrenaline, tended to decrease after acupuncture. Thus, acupuncture induced a decrease in the granulocyte counts and adrenaline levels as well as an increase in the number of CD8＋ and IFN-γ-producing cells. These results indicate that the signals produced from acupuncture treatment are transmitted from the peripheral nerve to the central nervous system; this transmission may suppress the secretion of adrenaline via suppression of the sympathetic nerve, and enhance the activity of IFN-γ-producing CD8＋ T cells and NK cells.