Very Low-Level Transcranial Photobiomodulation for Major Depressive Disorder: The ELATED-3 Multicenter, Randomized, Sham-Controlled Trial

J Clin Psychiatry. 2022 Aug 8;83(5):21m14226. doi: 10.4088/JCP.21m14226.


Background: Transcranial photobiomodulation (t-PBM) with near-infrared (NIR) light might represent a treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD). However, the dosimetry of administered t-PBM varies widely. We tested the efficacy of t-PBM with low irradiance, low energy per session, and low number of sessions in individuals with MDD.

Methods: A 2-site, double-blind, sham-controlled study was conducted of adjunct t-PBM NIR (830 nm; continuous wave; 35.8 cm2 treatment area; 54.8 mW/cm2 irradiance; 65.8 J/cm2 fluence, 20 min/session; ~2 W total power; 2.3 kJ total energy per session), delivered to the prefrontal cortex, bilaterally, twice a week for 6 weeks, in subjects diagnosed with MDD per the DSM-IV criteria. Subjects were recruited between August 2016 and May 2018. A sequential parallel comparison design was used: 18 nonresponders to sham in phase 1 (6 weeks) were re-randomized in phase 2. The primary outcome was reduction in depression severity (Hamilton Depression Rating Scale [HDRS-17] and Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology-Clinician Rating [QIDS-C] scores) from baseline. Statistical analyses used R package SPCDAnalyze2, including all subjects with ≥ 1 post-randomization evaluation.

Results: Of the 54 subjects recruited, we included 49 MDD subjects in the analysis (71% female, mean ± SD age 40.8 ± 16.1 years). There were no significant differences between t-PBM and sham with respect to the change in HDRS-17 (t = -0.319, P = .751) or QIDS-C (t = -0.499, P = .620) scores. The sham effect was reasonably low.

Conclusions: Mostly uncontrolled studies suggest the efficacy of t-PBM for MDD; however, its optimal dose is still to be defined. A minimal dose threshold is likely necessary, similarly to other neuromodulation techniques in MDD (electroconvulsive therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation). We established a threshold of inefficacy of t-PBM for MDD, based on combined low irradiance, low energy per session, and low number of sessions.

Trial Registration: identifier: NCT02959307.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / therapy
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Euphoria
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult

Associated data