Low level light therapy (LLLT) holds potential for improving neuronal cell function in patients with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), according to a new study from the University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, Va.

Published online by Molecular Neurodegeneration on June 17, the study is the latest in a series of articles by researchers at the UVA Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Research Center of Excellence about promising new treatments for re-energizing the cellular engines of patients with PD and other neurodegenerative diseases, says UVA.

Led by Patricia A. Trimmer, PhD, associate professor of neurological research at the UVA School of Medicine, the in vitro study showed that a single, brief treatment with a 810 nm low-level, near-infrared laser increased for 2-hours the velocity of mitochondrial movement in cells taken from patients with sporadic PD, speeding it up to levels comparable to cells from a disease-free, age-matched control group.

"Our findings provide early-stage confirmation that LLLT has the potential to improve neuronal function in many patients with PD and other neurological diseases," says Trimmer in the statement from UVA. The most dysfunctional patient cells had the weakest response to LLLT, and the therapy had no impact on healthy control group cells, says UVA.

Mitochondria are the cellular engines that transform food into fuel in our bodies and perform their work in the energy-intensive tissue of our brains, retinas, hearts, and skeletal muscles. In PD patients, mitochondria become metabolically and functionally compromised, and cells slow down, become ineffective in generating energy, and over-produce oxygen free radicals, says UVA. If produced in excess, oxygen free radicals chemically attack all cell components, including proteins, DNA, and lipids in cell membranes, says UVA.

Trimmer notes that numerous investigational PD drugs have demonstrated efficacy in animal models but proven largely ineffective in humans, according to UVA. By contrast, LLLT is already being used to treat a wide range of human conditions involving injury and inflammation, and it has also been evaluated in Phase 2 clinical trials as a way to ameliorate the consequences of stroke, says UVA.

Study co-authors were Kathleen M. Schwartz and M. Kathleen Borland of the Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Research Center of Excellence at UVA, Luis De Taboada and Jackson Streeter of PhotoThera Inc, and Uri Oron of Tel-Aviv University in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

[Source: University of Virginia Health System]