Current treatment of depression has significant limitations. Antidepressant medication is the first-line treatment for depression, but it is not suitable for everyone. Askalsky and losifescu cited “more than one-third of [Major Depressive Disorder] patients do not achieve remission after several adequate antidepressant trials, and relapses are frequent,” and that’s not counting those who reject the idea of taking medication.

The pair’s recent 2019 publication provides a comprehensive introduction to an exciting new depression treatment approach transcranial Photobiomodulation (tPBM), or the application of non-invasive light to the brain. Animal and human studies suggest t-PBM is a safe and easy-to-administer antidepressant treatment.

Key Findings

  • Studies have shown abnormalities related to mitochondrial function were associated with depression. Mitochondria, commonly known as the powerhouse of the cell, produces energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Patients with depression have displayed a decreased rate of ATP production. T-PBM triggers a photochemical reaction in neurons, prompting mitochondria to generate more ATP.
  • Several studies have shown t-PBM can increase cerebral blood flow. Repeated t-PBM “to the forehead increased regional [cerebral blood flow] by 20% in a patient in persistent vegetative state”; in another larger study of 25 healthy women, t-PBM “increased local [cerebral blood flow].”
  • Research shows oxidative stress plays an important role in depression. The higher level of superoxide dismutase (SOD), an indicator of oxidative stress, is correlated with depression severity. T-PBM has been shown to affect oxidative stress and inflammation.
  • Findings provide “significant support for the potential antidepressant effect of t-PBM.” 

Askalsky, P. Losifescu, D. V. (2019). Transcranial Photobiomodulation for the Management of Depression: Current Perspectives. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment.