Photobiomodulation prevents PTSD-like memory impairments in rats

Mol Psychiatry. 2021 Nov;26(11):6666-6679. doi: 10.1038/s41380-021-01088-z. Epub 2021 Apr 15.


A precise fear memory encoding a traumatic event enables an individual to avoid danger and identify safety. An impaired fear memory (contextual amnesia), however, puts the individual at risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the inability to identify a safe context when encountering trauma-associated cues later in life. Although it is gaining attention that contextual amnesia is a critical etiologic factor for PTSD, there is no treatment currently available that can reverse contextual amnesia, and whether such treatment can prevent the development of PTSD is unknown. Here, we report that (I) a single dose of transcranial photobiomodulation (PBM) applied immediately after tone fear conditioning can reverse contextual amnesia. PBM treatment preserved an appropriately high level of contextual fear memory in rats revisiting the "dangerous" context, while control rats displayed memory impairment. (II) A single dose of PBM applied after memory recall can reduce contextual fear during both contextual and cued memory testing. (III) In a model of complex PTSD with repeated trauma, rats given early PBM interventions efficiently discriminated safety from danger during cued memory testing and, importantly, these rats did not develop PTSD-like symptoms and comorbidities. (IV) Finally, we report that fear extinction was facilitated when PBM was applied in the early intervention window of memory consolidation. Our results demonstrate that PBM treatment applied immediately after a traumatic event or its memory recall can protect contextual fear memory and prevent the development of PTSD-like psychopathological fear in rats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Extinction, Psychological
  • Fear
  • Memory
  • Memory Disorders / etiology
  • Rats
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / pathology