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. 2018 Apr;96(4):731-743.
doi: 10.1002/jnr.24190. Epub 2017 Nov 13.

Photobiomodulation for Traumatic Brain Injury and Stroke

Free PMC article

Photobiomodulation for Traumatic Brain Injury and Stroke

Michael R Hamblin. J Neurosci Res. .
Free PMC article

Erratum in

  • Corrigendum.
    J Neurosci Res. 2019 Mar;97(3):373. doi: 10.1002/jnr.24376. J Neurosci Res. 2019. PMID: 30666730 No abstract available.


There is a notable lack of therapeutic alternatives for what is fast becoming a global epidemic of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Photobiomodulation (PBM) employs red or near-infrared (NIR) light (600-1100nm) to stimulate healing, protect tissue from dying, increase mitochondrial function, improve blood flow, and tissue oxygenation. PBM can also act to reduce swelling, increase antioxidants, decrease inflammation, protect against apoptosis, and modulate microglial activation state. All these mechanisms of action strongly suggest that PBM delivered to the head should be beneficial in cases of both acute and chronic TBI. Most reports have used NIR light either from lasers or from light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Many studies in small animal models of acute TBI have found positive effects on neurological function, learning and memory, and reduced inflammation and cell death in the brain. There is evidence that PBM can help the brain repair itself by stimulating neurogenesis, upregulating BDNF synthesis, and encouraging synaptogenesis. In healthy human volunteers (including students and healthy elderly women), PBM has been shown to increase regional cerebral blood flow, tissue oxygenation, and improve memory, mood, and cognitive function. Clinical studies have been conducted in patients suffering from the chronic effects of TBI. There have been reports showing improvement in executive function, working memory, and sleep. Functional magnetic resonance imaging has shown modulation of activation in intrinsic brain networks likely to be damaged in TBI (default mode network and salience network).

Keywords: animal studies; chromophores; clinical trials; human studies; low-level laser therapy; photobiomodulation; stroke; traumatic brain injury.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of Interest Statement: The author declares no conflict of interest


Figure 1
Figure 1. Molecular mechanisms of tPBM
Light passes through the scalp and skull, where depending on the wavelength it is absorbed by two different chromophores. Red and NIR (up to 940nm) is primarily absorbed by cytochrome c oxidase in the mitochondrial respiratory chain of the cortical neurons. Longer wavelength NIR light (980nm, 1064nm) is primarily absorbed by heat and light-sensitive transient receptor potential ion channels. In both cases cell signaling and messenger molecules are upregulated as a result of stimulated mitochondrial activity, including reactive oxygen species (ROS), and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). hv is light, TRPV is transient receptor potential vanilloid (ion channels).
Figure 2
Figure 2. Brain-specific mechanisms of tPBM
The gene transcription process described in Figure 1 can lead to decreases in neuronal apoptosis and excitotoxicity and lessening of inflammation and reduction of edema due to increased lymphatic flow, which together with protective factors such as antioxidants, will all help to reduce progressive brain damage. Increases in angiogenesis, expression of neurotrophins leading to activation of neural progenitor cells and more cell migration, and increased synaptogenesis may all contribute to the brain repairing itself from damage sustained in the trauma. AUC is area under the curve.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Effect of different laser wavelengths of tPBM in closed-head TBI in mice
(A) Sham-treated control versus 665 nm laser. (B) Sham-treated control versus 730 nm laser. (C) Sham-treated control versus 810 nm laser. (D) Sham-treated control versus 980 nm laser. Points are means of 8–12 mice and bars are SD. *P < 0.05; **P < 0.01; ***P < 0.001 (one-way ANOVA). Reprinted with permission from (Wu et al. 2012)
Figure 4
Figure 4. Effects of pulsing in tPBM for CCI-TBI in mice
(A) Time course of neurological severity score (NSS) of mice with TBI receiving either control (no laser-treatment), or 810 nm laser (36 J/cm2 delivered at 50 mW/cm2 with a spot size of 0.78 cm2 in either CW, PW 10 Hz or PW 100 Hz modes. Results are expressed as mean +/- S.E.M ***P < 0.001 vs. the other conditions. (B) Mean areas under the NSS-time curves in the two-dimensional coordinate system over the 28-day study for the 4 groups of mice. Results are means +/- SD (n = 10). Reprinted from (Ando et al. 2011) (open access).

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