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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

Light Based Treatment for Alzheimer’s?

Light Based Therapy for Alzheimer’s


Researchers at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have shown that a unique, non-invasive treatment involving flickering light restores disrupted gamma waves in the brains of mice with Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain cells firing rhythmically and in sync produce waves, which are categorized by their firing frequencies. Delta waves (1.5 Hz to 4 Hz) are produced during deep sleep. Theta waves (4 Hz to 12 Hz) occur during running and deep meditation. And gamma waves (25 Hz to 100 Hz) are associated with excitement and concentration.

Changes in gamma waves in the range of 20–50 Hz have been observed in several neurological disorders. (Iaccarino, 2016). This gamma wave disruption may be a key factor in Alzheimer’s disease pathology, according to a 2016 mouse study published in Nature. The MIT researchers propose that restoration of these waves may one day also be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease in humans. In the study, when the MIT research team stimulated brain neurons to produce gamma waves at a frequency of 40 Hz, both the occurrence and severity of several Alzheimer’s- associated symptoms in the mouse subjects were reduced.  “The researchers induced slow gamma waves using optogenetics*, and by exposing the mice to flickering light—an approach they suggest could translate to human therapies.” (Taylor, 2016)

“Stimulation of gamma waves reduced levels of amyloid-β, decreased phosphorylation of tau, and led the brain’s immune cells—microglia—to perform their usual housekeeping role, clearing away cellular debris, including amyloid-β  (as opposed to mounting an inflammatory response as microglia do in Alzheimer’s disease.”  (Taylor, 2016)

* Optogenetics (from Greek optikós, meaning ‘seen, visible’) is a biological technique which involves the use of light to control cells in living tissue, typically neurons, that have been genetically modified to express light-sensitive ion channels. (Wikipedia, 2017) You can learn more about this research by watching the RadioLab podcast called Bringing Gamma Back.

Brain cells called microglia (green) stained for lba1, a microglia marker (Photo Credit: Hannah Iaccarino, Anthony Martorell)

A note about this image from the producer of the RadioLab podcast:

“Those neon green things in the image are microglia, the brain’s immune cells, or, as we describe them in our episode, the janitor cells of the brain. Straight from MIT’s research files, this image shows microglia who have gotten light stimulation therapy (one can only hope in the flicker room). You can see their many, super-long tentacles, which would be used to feel out anything that didn’t belong in the brain. And then they’d eat it!” Here’s a short video on the nature of Alzheimer’s and the MIT research on light-based therapy described above:

Many thanks to Richard Boenigk for bringing this interesting research to my attention. PREVENTING ALZHEIMER’S & OTHER FORMS OF DEMENTIA

Even more important than figuring out ways to TREAT Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia once they’ve developed, is taking steps to PREVENT it in the first place.  See Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts for what you can do to keep your brain functioning well into old age. “The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that by mid-century someone in the U.S will develop Alzheimer’s disease every 33 seconds.” (Mercola, 2017)



Iaccarino, H. et al. (12/7/2016). Gamma frequency entrainment attenuates amyloid load and modifies microglia,  Nature, 540: 230-235. See: Mercola, R. (2/11/2017). Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts. See: RadioLab. (2016). Bringing Gamma Back. Podcast. See:

Taylor, A.P. (2016). Toward Treating Alzheimer’s Disease with Brain Waves: In a mouse model, researchers mitigated three Alzheimer’s disease–associated symptoms by stimulating gamma waves with light. The Scientist. See:

Wikipedia. (4/22/2017). Optogenetics. See: © Copyright 2017. Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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