Transcranial Photobiomodulation for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. The ELATED-2 Pilot Trial

Photomed Laser Surg. 2018 Dec;36(12):634-646. doi: 10.1089/pho.2018.4490. Epub 2018 Oct 20.


Objective: Our objective was to test the antidepressant effect of transcranial photobiomodulation (t-PBM) with near-infrared (NIR) light in subjects suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD). Background: t-PBM with NIR light is a new treatment for MDD. NIR light is absorbed by mitochondria; it boosts cerebral metabolism, promotes neuroplasticity, and modulates endogenous opioids, while decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress. Materials and methods: We conducted a double-blind, sham-controlled study on the safety and efficacy [change in Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D17) total score at end-point] of adjunct t-PBM NIR [823 nm; continuous wave (CW); 28.7 × 2 cm2; 36.2 mW/cm2; up to 65.2 J/cm2; 20-30 min/session], delivered to dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, bilaterally and simultaneously, twice a week, for 8 weeks, in subjects with MDD. Baseline observation carried forward (BOCF), last observation carried forward (LOCF), and completers analyses were performed. Results: The effect size for the antidepressant effect of t-PBM, based on change in HAM-D17 total score at end-point, was 0.90, 0.75, and 1.5 (Cohen's d), respectively for BOCF (n = 21), LOCF (n = 19), and completers (n = 13). Further, t-PBM was fairly well tolerated, with no serious adverse events. Conclusions: t-PBM with NIR light demonstrated antidepressant properties with a medium to large effect size in patients with MDD. Replication is warranted, especially in consideration of the small sample size.

Keywords: depression; low-level laser therapy; randomized controlled trial.

MeSH terms

  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Low-Level Light Therapy / methods*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic