Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a prevalent condition associated with high rates of disability, as well as suicidal ideation and behavior. Current treatments for MDD have significant limitations in efficacy and side effect burden. FDA-approved devices for MDD are burdensome (due to repeated in-office procedures) and are most suitable for severely ill subjects. There is a critical need for device-based treatments in MDD that are efficacious, well-tolerated, and easy to use. In this paper, we review a novel neuromodulation strategy, transcranial photobiomodulation (t-PBM) with near-infrared light (NIR). The scope of our review includes the known biological mechanisms of t-PBM, as well as its efficacy in animal models of depression and in patients with MDD. Theoretically, t-PBM penetrates into the cerebral cortex, stimulating the mitochondrial respiratory chain, and also significantly increases cerebral blood flow. Animal and human studies, using a variety of t-PBM settings and experimental models, suggest that t-PBM may have significant efficacy and good tolerability in MDD. In aggregate, these data support the need for large confirmatory studies for t-PBM as a novel, likely safe, and easy-to-administer antidepressant treatment.
Keywords: depression; low-level light therapy; major depressive disorder; near infrared radiation; photobiomodulation.
© 2019 Askalsky and Iosifescu.