Transcranial Photobiomodulation in Adults with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: Positive Findings from a Proof-of-Concept Study

Photobiomodul Photomed Laser Surg. 2022 Jan;40(1):4-12. doi: 10.1089/photob.2020.4986. Epub 2021 Dec 23.


Objective: To assess the efficacy and safety of transcranial photobiomodulation (tPBM) in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Methods: Adults with high-functioning-ASD, between 18 and 59 years of age, were enrolled to receive twice a week tPBM for 8 weeks in an open-label single group design. ASD symptom severity was assessed at baseline, midpoint, and end-point, by clinician-, self-, and informant-rated measures. Treatment response was defined as a ≥30% reduction in Social Responsiveness Scale-2nd Edition (SRS-2) total score and ASD Clinical Global Impression-Improvement score ≤2. Any possible adverse events were recorded at each visit. Paired-samples t-test analyses were performed. Results: Eleven participants were enrolled, and 10 participants (9 males; 30.0 ± 11.9 years) completed the study. One participant withdrew consent before baseline. All 10 completers were included in efficacy and safety analyses. Five participants (50%) met responder criteria at end-point. Overall, 8-week tPBM was associated with significant reduction in SRS-2 total scores at end-point (SRS-2: -30.6 ± 23, p < 0.001) particularly in Social Awareness (-3.0 ± 1.9, p < 0.001), Social Communication (-10.3 ± 6, p < 0.001), Social Motivation (-5.0 ± 2.4, p < 0.001), and Restricted/Repetitive Behaviors (-7.4 ± 4.1, p < 0.001). There were statistically significant improvements at end-point in Global Assessment of Functioning scores (+12.8 ± 4.2, p < 0.001) and Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire scores (+6.0 ± 7.9, p = 0.02). Three participants experienced transient, mild side effects (insomnia, headache, and warmth at treatment application site). No adverse events required changes in tPBM protocol. Adherence rate was 98%. Conclusions: tPBM is a safe and feasible treatment approach that has the potential to treat core features of ASD. Further research is necessary and warranted. Identifier: NCT03724552.

Keywords: autism; developmental disorders; near-infrared; photobiomodulation; treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Proof of Concept Study
  • Quality of Life

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