Transcranial brain stimulation with low-level light/laser therapy (LLLT) is the use of directional low-power and high-fluency monochromatic or quasimonochromatic light from lasers or LEDs in the red-to-near-infrared wavelengths to modulate a neurobiological function or induce a neurotherapeutic effect in a nondestructive and non-thermal manner. The mechanism of action of LLLT is based on photon energy absorption by cytochrome oxidase, the terminal enzyme in the mitochondrial respiratory chain. Cytochrome oxidase has a key role in neuronal physiology, as it serves as an interface between oxidative energy metabolism and cell survival signaling pathways. Cytochrome oxidase is an ideal target for cognitive enhancement, as its expression reflects the changes in metabolic capacity underlying higher-order brain functions. This review provides an update on new findings on the neurotherapeutic applications of LLLT. The photochemical mechanisms supporting its cognitive-enhancing and brain-stimulatory effects in animal models and humans are discussed. LLLT is a potential non-invasive treatment for cognitive impairment and other deficits associated with chronic neurological conditions, such as large vessel and lacunar hypoperfusion or neurodegeneration. Brain photobiomodulation with LLLT is paralleled by pharmacological effects of low-dose USP methylene blue, a non-photic electron donor with the ability to stimulate cytochrome oxidase activity, redox and free radical processes. Both interventions provide neuroprotection and cognitive enhancement by facilitating mitochondrial respiration, with hormetic dose-response effects and brain region activational specificity. This evidence supports enhancement of mitochondrial respiratory function as a generalizable therapeutic principle relevant to highly adaptable systems that are exquisitely sensitive to energy availability such as the nervous system.
Keywords: Cognitive enhancement; Cytochrome oxidase; Low-level light therapy; Methylene blue; Neuroprotection; Photobiomodulation.
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