NEUROLOGICAL DISEASE THERAPY: Cells of Parkinson’s patients respond to low-level light

An in vitro study1 has shown that a single, brief treatment with an 810 nm low level, near-infrared (NIR) laser had dramatic effect on cell function in patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD). The treatment increased for two 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. The findings hold promise for future therapy for PD patients.

“Our findings provide early-stage confirmation that low level light therapy (LLLT) has the potential to improve neuronal function in many patients with PD and other neurological diseases,” says Patricia A. Trimmer, who led the study. Trimmer is associate professor of neurological research at the University of Virginia School of Medicine (Charlottesville, VA).

Mitochondria, which transform food into fuel, become metabolically and functionally compromised in PD patients. Cells slow down, become ineffective in generating energy, and then over-produce oxygen free radicals–which then chemically attack all cell components including proteins, DNA, and lipids in membranes.

Trimmer and her colleagues use images from three-minute movies to calculate the velocity of mitochondrial movement in each Parkinson’s disease or control cybrid line with and without exposure to the low level 810 nm laser. Measuring 0.5 microns wide, the mitochondria vary in length and in terms of movement pattern; some move quickly, some jiggle back and forth in place, and some are immobile.


The mitochondria show up here, in two neuronal processes from a Parkinson’s disease cybrid cell line, as red rods.
Click here to enlarge image

While various investigational PD drugs have demonstrated efficacy in animal models, they have proven largely ineffective in humans. LLLT, however, is already being used to treat a wide range of human conditions involving injury and inflammation–and has been evaluated in Phase 2 clinical trials as a way to mitigate the effects of stroke (see “First viable stroke treatment is aim of infrared device,” p. 12).

“Future steps in the development of LLLT as a therapy for PD will include trying it out in one or more animal models for PD,” Trimmer told BioOptics World. “Luckily we have several models based on families with PD and based on environmental toxins. We will probably use a rodent model (mouse or rat) and a larger animal model like the mini pig to make sure we are delivering enough light to the brain and to determine the treatment parameters,” she added.

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. –Barbara G. Goode

REFERENCES

  1. P.A. Trimmer et. al. Molecular Neurodegeneration (2009) 4:26

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