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

Study: light for depression

Best Red Light Therapy Commentary

This study helps define the red light therapy dosage to treat major depressive disorder (MDD). Researchers had previously reduced depression using higher light doses. In this case, they lowered the energy delivered per session or per week to test when a dose is too small to be effective. Some subjects did get relief, but fewer than those in studies with higher doses of light.

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.

PMID:35950904Opens in a new tab.

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