Transcranial Laser Therapy Does Not Improve Cognitive and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-Related Behavioral Traits in Rats Exposed to Repetitive Low-Level Blast Injury

Neurotrauma Rep. 2021 Dec 2;2(1):548-563. doi: 10.1089/neur.2021.0005. eCollection 2021.


Many military veterans who experienced blast-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from chronic cognitive and mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Transcranial laser therapy (TLT) uses low-power lasers emitting light in the far- to near-infrared ranges. Beneficial effects of TLT have been reported in neurological and mental-health-related disorders in humans and animal models, including TBI. Rats exposed to repetitive low-level blast develop chronic cognitive and PTSD-related behavioral traits. We tested whether TLT treatment could reverse these traits. Rats received a 74.5-kPa blast or sham exposures delivered one per day for 3 consecutive days. Beginning at 34 weeks after blast exposure, the following groups of rats were treated with active or sham TLT: 1) Sham-exposed rats (n = 12) were treated with sham TLT; 2) blast-exposed rats (n = 13) were treated with sham TLT; and 3) blast-exposed rats (n = 14) were treated with active TLT. Rats received 5 min of TLT five times per week for 6 weeks (wavelength, 808 nm; power of irradiance, 240 mW). At the end of treatment, rats were tested in tasks found previously to be most informative (novel object recognition, novel object localization, contextual/cued fear conditioning, elevated zero maze, and light/dark emergence). TLT did not improve blast-related effects in any of these tests, and blast-exposed rats were worse after TLT in some anxiety-related measures. Based on these findings, TLT does not appear to be a promising treatment for the chronic cognitive and mental health problems that follow blast injury.

Keywords: blast; post-traumatic stress disorder; rat; transcranial laser therapy; traumatic brain injury.