Background: Many studies have reported beneficial effects from the application of near-infrared (NIR) light photobiomodulation (PBM) to the body, and one group has reported beneficial effects applying it to the brain in stroke patients. We have reported that the measurement of a patient's left and right hemispheric emotional valence (HEV) may clarify data and guide lateralized treatments. We sought to test whether a NIR treatment could 1. improve the psychological status of patients, 2. show a relationship between immediate psychological improvements when HEV was taken into account, and 3. show an increase in frontal pole regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF), and 4. be applied without side effects.
Methods: We gave 10 patients, (5 M/5 F) with major depression, including 9 with anxiety, 7 with a past history of substance abuse (6 with an opiate abuse and 1 with an alcohol abuse history), and 3 with post traumatic stress disorder, a baseline standard diagnostic interview, a Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D), a Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A), and a Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS). We then gave four 4-minute treatments in a random order: NIR to left forehead at F3, to right forehead at F4, and placebo treatments (light off) at the same sites. Immediately following each treatment we repeated the PANAS, and at 2-weeks and at 4-weeks post treatment we repeated all 3 rating scales. During all treatments we recorded total hemoglobin (cHb), as a measure of rCBF with a commercial NIR spectroscopy device over the left and the right frontal poles of the brain.
Results: At 2-weeks post treatment 6 of 10 patients had a remission (a score </= 10) on the HAM-D and 7 of 10 achieved this on the HAM-A. Patients experienced highly significant reductions in both HAM-D and HAM-A scores following treatment, with the greatest reductions occurring at 2 weeks. Mean rCBF across hemispheres increased from 0.011 units in the off condition to 0.043 units in the on condition, for a difference of 0.032 (95% CI: -0.016, 0.080) units, though this result did not reach statistical significance. Immediately after treatment the PANAS improved to a significantly greater extent with NIR "on" relative to NIR "off" when a hemisphere with more positive HEV was treated than when one with more negative HEV was treated. We observed no side effects.
Conclusion: This small feasibility study suggests that NIR-PBM may have utility for the treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders and that double blind randomized placebo-controlled trials are indicated.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT00961454.