Transcranial Laser Stimulation as Neuroenhancement for Attention Bias Modification in Adults with Elevated Depression Symptoms

Brain Stimul. 2016 Sep-Oct;9(5):780-787. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2016.05.009. Epub 2016 May 24.


Background: Low-level light therapy (LLLT) with transcranial laser is a non-invasive form of neuroenhancement shown to regulate neuronal metabolism and cognition. Attention bias modification (ABM) is a cognitive intervention designed to improve depression by decreasing negative attentional bias, but to date its efficacy has been inconclusive. Adjunctive neuroenhancement to augment clinical effectiveness has shown promise, particularly for individuals who respond positively to the primary intervention.

Objective/hypothesis: This randomized, sham-controlled proof-of-principle study is the first to test the hypothesis that augmentative LLLT will improve the effects of ABM among adults with elevated symptoms of depression.

Methods: Fifty-one adult participants with elevated symptoms of depression received ABM before and after laser stimulation and were randomized to one of three conditions: right forehead, left forehead, or sham. Participants repeated LLLT two days later and were assessed for depression symptoms one and two weeks later.

Results: A significant three-way interaction between LLLT condition, ABM response, and time indicated that right LLLT led to greater symptom improvement among participants whose attention was responsive to ABM (i.e., attention was directed away from negative stimuli). Minimal change in depression was observed in the left and sham LLLT.

Conclusions: The beneficial effects of ABM on depression symptoms may be enhanced when paired with adjunctive interventions such as right prefrontal LLLT; however, cognitive response to ABM likely moderates the impact of neuroenhancement. The results suggest that larger clinical trials examining the efficacy of using photoneuromodulation to augment cognitive training are warranted.

Keywords: Attention bias modification; Brain stimulation; Cognition; Depression; Lasers; Photobiomodulation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention / physiology
  • Attentional Bias*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low-Level Light Therapy / methods*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult