Red LED photobiomodulation reduces pain hypersensitivity and improves sensorimotor function following mild T10 hemicontusion spinal cord injury

J Neuroinflammation. 2016 Aug 26;13(1):200. doi: 10.1186/s12974-016-0679-3.


Background: The development of hypersensitivity following spinal cord injury can result in incurable persistent neuropathic pain. Our objective was to examine the effect of red light therapy on the development of hypersensitivity and sensorimotor function, as well as on microglia/macrophage subpopulations following spinal cord injury.

Methods: Wistar rats were treated (or sham treated) daily for 30 min with an LED red (670 nm) light source (35 mW/cm(2)), transcutaneously applied to the dorsal surface, following a mild T10 hemicontusion injury (or sham injury). The development of hypersensitivity was assessed and sensorimotor function established using locomotor recovery and electrophysiology of dorsal column pathways. Immunohistochemistry and TUNEL were performed to examine cellular changes in the spinal cord.

Results: We demonstrate that red light penetrates through the entire rat spinal cord and significantly reduces signs of hypersensitivity following a mild T10 hemicontusion spinal cord injury. This is accompanied with improved dorsal column pathway functional integrity and locomotor recovery. The functional improvements were preceded by a significant reduction of dying (TUNEL(+)) cells and activated microglia/macrophages (ED1(+)) in the spinal cord. The remaining activated microglia/macrophages were predominantly of the anti-inflammatory/wound-healing subpopulation (Arginase1(+)ED1(+)) which were expressed early, and up to sevenfold greater than that found in sham-treated animals.

Conclusions: These findings demonstrate that a simple yet inexpensive treatment regime of red light reduces the development of hypersensitivity along with sensorimotor improvements following spinal cord injury and may therefore offer new hope for a currently treatment-resistant pain condition.

Keywords: 670 nm; Allodynia; Light therapy; M2 macrophage polarization; Neuropathic pain; Photobiomodulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism
  • Body Weight / radiation effects
  • Color
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Ectodysplasins / metabolism
  • Functional Laterality / radiation effects
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / etiology*
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / radiotherapy*
  • Locomotion / radiation effects
  • Low-Level Light Therapy / methods*
  • Macrophages / radiation effects
  • Male
  • Microglia / radiation effects
  • Neural Conduction / radiation effects
  • Neuralgia / etiology*
  • Neuralgia / radiotherapy*
  • Pain Threshold / radiation effects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Spinal Cord / radiation effects
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*


  • Antigens, CD
  • Ectodysplasins