Introduction: The concept of acupoints is a key defining feature of acupuncture, yet the scientific basis of acupoints remains unclear. In recent years, there has been an emerging body of animal studies demonstrating an association between cutaneous sensitivity and visceral pathophysiology, through which acupoints over the skin are sensitized in pathologic conditions. Several studies with humans have also been conducted to assess whether the sensitivity of acupoints is distinct in healthy versus clinical populations. However, no systematic review has been conducted to collate and synthesize the status and quality of human studies on this topic. Methods: A systematic review was conducted in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis (PRISMA). Literature search was performed by combining variations of search terms related to acupoints and pain sensitivity in PubMed, EMBASE, and Alt HealthWatch (EBSCOHost). Screening of titles and abstracts and review of full-text articles for eligibility were performed by two independent investigators. Using a predefined template, information on subject characteristics, pathologic conditions, names of assessed acupoints, and relevant main findings were extracted from the included studies. The methodological quality of included studies was assessed using a modified Newcastle-Ottawa Scale (NOS) for case-control studies. A quality assessment checklist was also developed by the present authors to examine the quality of reporting of experimental variables that were considered important for evaluating acupoint sensitivity. Results: A total of 3453 studies were identified from the database search, of which 11 met the eligibility criteria to be included in this review. Six studies examined the mechanical sensitivity of body acupoints, and the remaining five studies examined the mechanical sensitivity of auricular points. Overall, findings suggest that the sensitivity of acupoints may be distinct in healthy versus clinical populations. However, there were various potential sources of bias and substantial heterogeneity across included studies in clinical conditions and acupoints. Conclusion: There is at present insufficient evidence to support or refute that acupoints in humans are sensitized in pathologic conditions. There were various methodological issues, including small sample size and poor reporting of experimental design and variables, which limit the ability to draw a definitive conclusion on this topic. It is also largely unclear whether it is the general body regions rather than specific acupoints that may be sensitized, as most studies did not include nonacupoint location(s) for comparison. Thus, further rigorous research is warranted.

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