An Ancient Cultivation Practice Falun Gong Improves Neutrophil Functions and Causes System-level Gene Regulation

 

Quan-Zhen Li 1 Gabriela E. Garcia 2 , Ping Li 2 , Richard J. Johnson 2 , Tongwen Wang 3 and Lili Feng 2

1 Microarray Core, Center for Immunology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center , Dallas , Texas 75390

2 Baylor College of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Section of Nephrology, Houston , Texas 77030

3 Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, Department of Immunology at University of Washington , Seattle , WA 98101

Address correspondence to:

 

Dr. Lili Feng, Baylor College of Medicine, Section of Nephrology, One Baylor Plaza , Alkek N-520, Houston , TX 77030 , USA .

E-mail: lfeng@bcm.tmc.edu

 

Abstract

 

Background: Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a very popular Qigong practice in China between 1992-1999 and now is known and practiced by near 100 million people throughout the world. Among all of the different Qigong practices that exhibit effects on improving one's health, Falun Gong had the fastest growth rate and the most far-reaching influence among the Chinese people. The effect of Falun Gong on health appears not to be dependent upon age, sex, cultural background, as indicated by the large-scale health survey carried out in 1998 in China . To better understand the healing effects of Falun Gong, we carried out a series of studies on Neutrophils/polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs) of Falun Gong practitioners and compared with PMNs from randomly chosen non-practitioners.

Results: We here report the cellular and molecular changes in Falun Gong practitioners' PMNs that may attribute to enhanced immunity, alteration of apoptotic properties in favor of a rapid resolution of inflammation, as well as PMNs longevity based upon a much more economical balance of protein synthesis and degradation.

Conclusions: Our studies suggest that Falun Gong practice alters immunity, cell death, and protein metabolic rate in a system fashion. Our findings further suggest that a new paradigm is urgently needed to understand the holistic link between human mind, body and spirit.

Background

There has been increasing interests in the phenomena of mind-body relationships, a subject that has not been subjected to systematic scientific investigations due to its complex nature. However, there are ample evidences accumulated throughout history to support the powerful physical effect of practices that are directed towards mind or spirituality. Such practices include both religious and non-religious cultivation practices. In the Western societies, faith-based religious practices are predominant while the Eastern culture emphasizes the practice of physical and mental disciplines, such as Yoga, Meditation, Tai Qi (Tai Ji Quan), Karate and most recently, an ancient cultivation practice, Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa ( www.falundafa.org ). While the health benefits of Yoga, meditation and prayer have been documented and partly recognized by the general public, the mechanisms underlie such apparent effects are not well-understood at the physiological level, least has been documented and systematically studied at the cellular or molecular level. On the other hand, major technological progresses have been made in the area of biological research that now allows rapid and precise monitoring of many of the detailed molecular events inside of a single cell. Many diseases can now be traced to the level of individual molecular defects of cell. Thus, it is now also feasible to tackle the phenomena that are consistently associated with spiritual practices by mapping the physical manifestations of the effects of these practices at the cellular and molecular level.

There are several well-recognized difficulties in conducting research on mind-body subject. First, it is commonly observed that there is a wide range of variability among practitioners of the same practice. Second, there also has been the lack of a large number of practitioners who consistently practicing one type of practice. Because of these factors, the results of such studies are frequently questioned for its lack of general application or representations. However, the practice of Falun Gong exhibits unique features that allow more systematic studies of mind-body relationships. These features are: 1) In comparison to many other practices, Falun Gong exhibits very dramatic and powerful effects on the practitioners. During 1998, five independent health surveys were conducted in Beijing , Wuhan , the region of Dalian , and Guandong Province by local medical institutions. They are the most systematic and comprehensive health surveys done on Falun Dafa practitioners to date. The surveys concluded that Falun Gong had provided significant health and fitness benefits to more than 98% of its practitioners ( http://www.pureinsight.org/sci/sci/ eng/newscontent.asp?ID=14248 ). 2) There are a large number of Falun Gong practitioners, currently already exceeding 100 million (www.faluninfo.net). Furthermore, the practice itself emphasizes the principal of “Do Not Follow Two Paths At the Same Time”, thus the practitioners are consistently only practicing Falun Gong; 3) There is a wide range of practitioners different at gender, age, professions, cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Despite such different backgrounds, the healing effects to different diseases are consistent. Thus the health effects from practicing Falun Gong appear not to be linked to many factors that have been considered to complicate the interpretations of studies of similar nature.

These features of Falun Gong suggest that modern biological or biophysical technologies can be applied here to reach a deeper level of confirmation or understanding of the molecular manifestation of spiritual practice on our human body. Since the immune system has been previously shown to be highly sensitive to environmental and psychological changes, we carried out studies to examine the effect of Falun Gong practice on the polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs), which are relatively short-lived but are produced in large quantity during the immune responses and play critical roles in innate immunity. Studies at the cellular level reveal increased bactericidal activities of PMNs from Falun Gong practitioners. Furthermore, Falun Gong practitioners' PMNs exhibit increased life span in the absence of stimulus such as LPS (lipopolysaccharide), but increased apoptosis upon LPS stimulation. Such changes in apoptotic responses of PMNs suggest an alteration of PMN functions in favor of a rapid resolution of inflammation. We also applied micro-array technology to examine the change of gene expression levels of PMNs. Drastic system-level changes of gene expression were detected in PMNs of Falun Gong practitioners, while little changes were detected among non-practitioners, despite the differences in age and gender. Most interestingly, the genes that are regulated in a consensus fashion among the practitioners can be grouped into several functional clusters, which are directly linked to PMN functions in anti-viral immunity, apoptotic property and possibly longevity based upon a much more economical balance of protein synthesis and degradation.

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Discussion

 

Biology is the study of life phenomena. The biological research in the last century has taken the approach of the dissection of systems into parts, study the parts in a defined setting with controlled parameters, gather information of the parts in separate settings, identify the functions of the parts in the defined settings following a defined hypothesis, and then draw conclusions regarding the function and functional mechanisms of the parts in the defined system. These studies have now brought us face to face with an extremely complex picture of molecular interactions: a dynamic web of communication between different molecules inside of a cell and the extremely complex and dynamic regulation of the communication web by signals from outside of the cell. For human body, the complexity is further escalated to a uniquely new and high level. At the level of a human body, the communication between a human being and the environment takes a different form in our perception range, which is something that we no longer can easily detect with physical means. The signals from outside are manifested at a finer or subtler manner. There are vehicles that mediate the exchange of these signals between different human beings. Language in different forms is one of the most well recognized vehicles. Many of the artistic expression of human spirits can be viewed as vehicles of signals: music, painting, sculpture. These human communication “signals” generates “readouts” on the physical body with names such as love, hatred, fear, anger, sad, happiness, which currently belong to the category of social, psychological and spiritual realms of studies. Such abstractive signals in fact exerts great impact on the biological systems of a human body, but is currently placed outside of the field of Biology. This is primarily due to the fact that current biology research is based upon in vitro systems or animal models and therefore cannot test these unique “signals” sensed only by human body and mind. It is therefore important to recognize the limitations of our current knowledge in the field of Biology, since they are derived from studies of non-human subjects and using artificial man-made systems. This then raises an important question about what approaches we shall take to approach the subject of human life phenomena, that is Human Biology, which is the directly relevant field of Human Medicine. The intrusive approaches biologists have been taking to study other organisms are not applicable to studying human body. The unique mind-body characteristic of a human being cannot be mimicked on any animal models. A new paradigm needs to be established to study the Biology of Human Body in a least intrusive manner. Recognizing the unique communication signals that regulate the Biology of a human body, we also need to find a way to combine the studies of these human signals, which belong to separate fields of Social Sciences, with the studies of Human Biology. In this sense, Human Biology is at a very unique position to unify many areas of Modern Sciences, which have been fragmented and considered un-related in the history. While such studies were not possible due to limited knowledge of the basic components of the human body, we are, however, facing an important revolution in this area, due to the recent development in the area of Genomics, Proteomics, Nano-Technology and Computational Biology. These technologies will provide us the ability to make “Snap Shots” of the molecular communication patterns occurring inside of a cell in a living organism. It is based upon one such technology that we now observe how a spiritual practice can profoundly influence a genome-wide gene expression pattern and shift cell functions to a more economical state. A thorough verification and expansion of the studies of the impact of Falun Dafa to population health and to gene expression/cell function of human cells will provide a solid proof of concept in this new area of Human Biology and lay the foundation for future human system studies of a similar nature.