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Near-Infrared Light May Hold Promise for PTSD Treatment

Near-Infrared Light May Hold Promise for PTSD Treatment

New, potentially ground-breaking research suggests near-infrared light may be an effective long-term treatment for brain disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A research team led by Dr. Hanli Liu, a University of Texas at Arlington bioengineering professor, have studied the use of near-infrared light on the brain for several years.

Liu’s interdisciplinary collaborative team has not only investigated the brain imaging capability of light but also revealed the therapeutic rationale for potentially improving cognitive functions of patients with PTSD. The research appears in Nature’s Scientific Reports.

When cells are stimulated with light, they remain stimulated for a lengthy period of time even after the light is removed. The approach differs from other therapies that use magnets or electric shocks and may have the potential to yield effective, longer-lasting results.

For the new research, the team used a human forearm as a biological model instead of the human brain to avoid confounding factors due to such anatomical structures as the scalp and skull.

Their paper outlines the discovery that shining near-infrared light on the subject’s forearm increases production of cytochrome-c-oxydase, a protein inside the neurons that stimulates blood flow. This discovery shows great potential that NIR or infrared light also will work within the brain, the researchers noted.

“This is the first time that effects of light stimulation have been quantified on living human tissue,” Liu said.

“The next challenge is to apply what was learned in a simpler system to the brain, where the light must pass through the scalp and the skull, as well as the brain. In the past several years, we have used the knowledge gained in the NIR field to detect, monitor and understand certain brain disorders, such as PTSD. But we have never utilized NIR light for treatment.”

Now the team is moving to report and publish its findings of transcranial NIR stimulation on the human brain by quantifying production of cytochrome-c-oxydase and increase of blood flow. It would support a novel, non-invasive treatment with imaging ability, especially for memory, which could really help veterans who suffer from PTSD.

Liu and her team also published another paper in Scientific Reports that reported Liu’s work on how the brains of people suffering from PTSD are different from a healthy group of non-PTSD sufferers using a Stroop test.

Stroop tests are attention tests that are commonly used in psychology.

Liu measured blood flow in the left side of the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex of subjects’ brains and found that those suffering from PTSD don’t have the ability to pay attention and also have insufficient blood flow in that area of the brain.

Liu had previously discovered that shining low-level light on the brain by placing the light source on the forehead can stimulate and energize neurons to function more effectively.

Source: University of Texas at Arlington

Near-Infrared Light May Hold Promise for PTSD Treatment

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Near-Infrared Light May Hold Promise for PTSD Treatment. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 12 Sep 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.