Transcranial Laser Stimulation Improves Brain Functions like Attention and Memory – Could it Help with Cluster Headaches or Migraines?


Scientists at the University of Texas-Austin have demonstrated that laser energy stimulates cytochrome oxidase and increases metabolic energy in the brain, leading to improvements in cognitive functions. Clinical studies were done on the prefrontal cortex of rats assessing measurable changes in enzyme levels and activity. Further evaluation of volunteers treated with therapeutic laser highlighted improved memory and reaction time. Laser therapy already has been found to be an effective treatment for relieving the pain of migraines and cluster headaches, but will further studies discover exactly what causes the brain chemicals and nerves to interact and cause such debilitating headaches?

Excerpt from:

Augmentation of cognitive brain functions with transcranial lasers

F. Gonzalez-Lima and Douglas W. Barrett

Discovering that transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial effects on frontal cortex functions such as sustained attention, working memory, and affective state has been groundbreaking. Transcranial laser stimulation with low-power density (mW/cm2) and high-energy density (J/cm2) monochromatic light in the near-infrared wavelengths modulates brain functions and may produce neurotherapeutic effects in a nondestructive and non-thermal manner (Lampl, 20071; Hashmi et al., 20102). Barrett and Gonzalez-Lima (20133) provided the first controlled study showing that transcranial laser stimulation improves human cognitive and emotional brain functions. …

…LLLT via commercial low-power sources (such as FDA-cleared laser diodes and LEDs) is a highly promising, affordable, non-pharmacological alternative for improving cognitive function. … In 2002, the FDA approved LLLT for pain relief in cases of head and neck pain, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome (Fulop et al., 20104). … Even though LLLT has been regarded as safe and received FDA approval for pain treatment, the use of transcranial lasers for cognitive augmentation should be restricted to research until further controlled studies support this application for clinical use. … Healthy volunteers received continuous wave near-infrared light intersecting cytochrome oxidase’s absorption spectrum, delivered to the forehead using a 1064 nm low-power laser diode (also known as “cold laser”), which maximizes tissue penetration due to its long wavelength, and has been used in humans for other indications. …

Transcranial absorption of photon energy by cytochrome oxidase, the terminal enzyme in mitochondrial respiration, is proposed as the bioenergetic mechanism of action of LLLT in the brain. Transcranial LLLT up-regulates cortical cytochrome oxidase and enhances oxidative phosphorylation. LLLT improves prefrontal cortex-related cognitive functions, such as sustained attention, extinction memory, working memory, and affective state. Transcranial infrared stimulation may be used efficaciously to support neuronal mitochondrial respiration as a new non-invasive, cognition-improving intervention in animals and humans. This fascinating new approach should also be able to influence other brain functions depending on the neuroanatomical site stimulated and the stimulation parameters used.

For complete article, go to:

Front. Syst. Neurosci., 14 March 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00036

1 Lampl, Y. (2007). Laser treatment for stroke. Expert Rev. Neurother. 7, 961–965. doi:10.1586/14737175.7.8.961

2 Hashmi, J. T., Huang, Y. Y., Osmani, B. Z., Sharma, S. K., Naeser, M. A., and Hamblin, M. R. (2010). Role of low-level laser therapy in neurorehabilitation. PM R 2, S292–S305. doi: 10.1016/j.pmrj.2010.10.013

3 Barrett, D.W., Gonzalez-Lima, F. (2013). Transcranial infrared laser stimulation produces beneficial cognitive and emotional effects in humans. Neuroscience. 2013 Jan 29;230:13-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2012.11.016.

4 Fulop, AM, Dhimmer S, Deluca JR, Johanson DD, Lenz RV, Patel KB, Douris PC, Enwemeka CS.(2010). A meta-analysis of the efficacy of laser phototherapy on pain relief. Clin J Pain. 2010 Oct;26(8):729-36. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e3181f09713.

Copyright © 2014 Gonzalez-Lima and Barrett.