Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
. 2017 Sep 29;8:187.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00187. eCollection 2017.

Multi-Watt Near-Infrared Phototherapy for the Treatment of Comorbid Depression: An Open-Label Single-Arm Study

Free PMC article

Multi-Watt Near-Infrared Phototherapy for the Treatment of Comorbid Depression: An Open-Label Single-Arm Study

Theodore A Henderson et al. Front Psychiatry. .
Free PMC article


Background: The treatment of depression has been hampered by low efficacy of antidepressant medications and safety concerns with alternative modalities. Recent work demonstrated that multi-Watt transcranial near-infrared light therapy (NILT) can effectively treat traumatic brain injury (TBI). The current objective is to explore multi-Watt NILT efficacy in a proof-of-concept study as a treatment for depression.

Methods: Thirty-nine sequential patients treated for TBI between March 2013 and May 2017 provided depression self-assessment data and/or were administered the Hamilton depression rating scale. Each completed the Quick Inventory of Depression Symptomatology-Self Report (QIDS) before and after treatment. Patients received multi-Watt NILT using near-infrared lasers (810/980 nm at 8-15 W) applied to forehead and temporal regions bilaterally for 9-12 min to each area. Pre- and posttreatment scores were analyzed by paired t-tests.

Results: All met QIDS criteria for mild to severe depression and 69% had prior antidepressant trials. For 36 of the 39 patients, after 16.82 ± 6.26 treatments, QIDS scores indicated a robust response (decrease of QIDS total score by ≥50%). For 32 of 39 patients, posttreatment QIDS scores indicated a remission from depression (decrease of QIDS total score ≤5). Overall, the QIDS score fell from 14.10 ± 3.39 to 3.41 ± 3.30 SD (p = 6.29 × 10-19). With 12 or fewer treatments, QIDS score dropped from 14.83 ± 2.55 to 4.17 ± 3.93. Patients receiving ≥13 treatments showed a change in QIDS score from 13.67 ± 3.64 to 3.11 ± 3.14. Those (N = 15) who received the entire treatment course within ≤8 weeks (5.33 ± 1.72 weeks) showed a change in QIDS score from 13.86 ± 3.14 to 4.5 ± 3.94. Suicidal ideation resolved in all, but two patients. Patients remained in remission for up to 55 months after a single course of treatment.

Conclusion: This is the first report of high-powered NILT showing efficacy for depression. Multi-Watt NILT showed far greater efficacy and persistent benefit compared to low-power (<1 Watt) infrared light treatments. Patients saw benefit often within four treatments and resolution of depressive symptoms occurred within 4 weeks for some. These data raise an intriguing possibility-that multi-Watt NILT may be a safe, effective, and rapid treatment for depression comorbid with TBI and possibly primary major depression disorder. A double-blind, placebo controlled trial is warranted to verify these proof-of-concept data.

Keywords: antidepressant; laser; major depression; near-infrared; near-infrared light therapy; photobiomodulation; suicidal ideation.


Figure 1
Figure 1
The Quick Inventory of Depression Symptomatology-Self Report (QIDS) score before and after transcranial multi-Watt near-infrared phototherapy treatment (Tx). Data for all 39 patients is shown, as well as data for those receiving 12 or fewer treatments (N = 12), ≥13 treatments (N = 27), and those treated in 8 weeks (N = 15). Mean and standard deviation are shown. All posttreatment score decreases are statistically significant. Total baseline QIDS score was 14.10 ± 3.39 and total endpoint QIDS total score 3.41 ± 3.30 SD (p = 6.29 × 10−19, paired t-test, one-tailed). Patients who received 12 or fewer treatments (N = 12) showed a change in QIDS score from 14.83 ± 2.55 to 4.16 ± 3.92 (p = 4.63 × 10−6). Patients who received ≥13 treatments (N = 27) similarly showed a change in QIDS score from 13.67 ± 3.64 to 3.11 ± 3.14 (p = 2.33 × 10−13). Patients who were treated in ≤8 weeks (N = 15) showed a robust response with a change in QIDS score from 13.87 ± 5.56 to 4.50 ± 3.94 (p = 5.56 × 10−6).

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 2 articles


    1. Thase ME, Entsuah AR, Rudolph RL. Remission rates during treatment with venlafaxine or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Br J Psychiatry (2001) 178:234–41.10.1192/bjp.178.3.234 - DOI - PubMed
    1. Connolly KR, Thase ME. If at first you don’t succeed: a review of the evidence for antidepressant augmentation, combination and switching strategies. Drugs (2011) 71(1):43–64.10.2165/11587620-000000000-00000 - DOI - PubMed
    1. Pigott HE, Leventhal AM, Alter GS, Boren JJ. Efficacy and effectiveness of antidepressants: current status of research. Psychother Psychosom (2010) 79(5):267–79.10.1159/000318293 - DOI - PubMed
    1. Goldstein BJ, Goodnick PJ. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in the treatment of affective disorders – III. Tolerability, safety and pharmacoeconomics. J Psychopharmacol (1998) 12(3 Suppl B):S55–87.10.1177/0269881198012003041 - DOI - PubMed
    1. Gumnick JF, Nemeroff CB. Problems with currently available antidepressants. J Clin Psychiatry (2000) 61(Suppl 10):5–15. - PubMed