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J Neuropsychol. 2017 Mar;11(1):14-25. doi: 10.1111/jnp.12074. Epub 2015 May 28.

Improving executive function using transcranial infrared laser stimulation.

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Department of Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas, USA.
Institute for Mental Health Research, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas, USA.
Institute for Neuroscience, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas, USA.
Center for Perceptual Systems, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas, USA.
Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas, USA.


Transcranial infrared laser stimulation is a new non-invasive form of low-level light therapy that may have a wide range of neuropsychological applications. It entails using low-power and high-energy-density infrared light from lasers to increase metabolic energy. Preclinical work showed that this intervention can increase cortical metabolic energy, thereby improving frontal cortex-based memory function in rats. Barrett and Gonzalez-Lima (2013, Neuroscience, 230, 13) discovered that transcranial laser stimulation can enhance sustained attention and short-term memory in humans. We extend this line of work to executive function. Specifically, we ask whether transcranial laser stimulation enhances performance in the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task that is considered the gold standard of executive function and is compromised in normal ageing and a number of neuropsychological disorders. We used a laser of a specific wavelength (1,064 nm) that photostimulates cytochrome oxidase - the enzyme catalysing oxygen consumption for metabolic energy production. Increased cytochrome oxidase activity is considered the primary mechanism of action of this intervention. Participants who received laser treatment made fewer errors and showed improved set-shifting ability relative to placebo controls. These results suggest that transcranial laser stimulation improves executive function and may have exciting potential for treating or preventing deficits resulting from neuropsychological disorders or normal ageing.


Wisconsin Card Sorting Task; executive function; low-level light therapy; neuroenhancement; prefrontal cortex; transcranial infrared laser stimulation

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