A historical justification for and retrospective analysis of the systematic application of light therapy in Parkinson's disease

Rev Neurosci. 2012 Mar 1;23(2):199-226. doi: 10.1515/revneuro-2011-0072.


For the past 40 years the primary purpose of therapeutics for Parkinson's disease (PD) has been to replace deficient dopamine (DA) in the nigrostriatal dopamine (NSD) system. Even in the presence of limited efficacy, abundant side effects and impoverished quality of life, the involvement of other systems in the aetiology and treatment of this disorder has been sorely neglected and the excessive use of DA replacement therapy (DART) continues on a global basis. Recent scientific work suggests that the retina plays a major role in NSD function and intimates light therapy in the management of PD. After a thorough review of historical evidence supporting this contention, a retrospective, open-label study on 129 PD patients, whereby they were monitored for a period extending for a few months to eight years, was carried out. Primary motor and non-motor symptoms were monitored using an objectified global rating scale and timed motor tests that were assessed at regular intervals for the duration of the study. Thirty-one patients with other neurological disorders (OND) served as controls to determine whether any therapeutic effects seen with light were generalizable across other conditions. Patients were classified as compliant (COM), semi-compliant (SCOM), or early quit (EQUIT; prematurely discontinued treatment). EQUIT patients showed deterioration, while the COM group improved on most parameters. The SCOM patients were not as good as the COM group. The OND group showed significant improvement in depression and insomnia, but exposure to light did not improve motor function. The total drug burden of PD patients maintained on light was less with fewer side effects than SCOM or EQUIT groups. These results confirm the value of the strategic application of light therapy with controlled doses of DART in PD and warrants further controlled investigation. That the symptomatic improvement continued as long patients remained in the program suggests that exposure to light, under a strict daily regimen, combined with controlled DART, actively slows or arrests the progressive degenerative process underlying PD.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Circadian Clocks / physiology
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Depression / therapy
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Agonists / adverse effects*
  • Dopamine Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Drug Overdose
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Parkinson Disease / history
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology
  • Parkinson Disease / therapy*
  • Phototherapy / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / radiation effects
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Melatonin
  • Dopamine