Dr Frank Porreca Shares His Thoughts on Green Light Therapy for Migraine

November 27, 2020

If green light therapy were proven to be effective for migraine, it would be hugely important, said Frank Porreca, PhD, professor of pharmacology and anesthesiology at the University of Arizona and a member of the Department of Collaborative Research at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

If green light therapy were proven to be effective for migraine, it would be hugely important, said Frank Porreca, PhD, professor of pharmacology and anesthesiology at the University of Arizona and a member of the Department of Collaborative Research at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

Transcript:

The American Journal of Managed Care® (AJMC®): Preliminary data have been released on light exposure therapy as a low-cost, non-invasive treatment option for individuals with migraine. What are your thoughts on this therapy?

Dr. Porreca:This is actually a very, very exciting area of research. There were really 2 independent laboratories that were pursuing this. One was the laboratory of Rami Burstein and colleagues at Harvard. Rami had investigated the underlying basis for photophobia. This is the hypersensitivity of patients with migraine to light. He was able to investigate the effects of different colors of light and found that green light was actually less aversive than other colors of light, and actually saw that some of his patients actually showed an improvement in pain with the green light. That was quite an amazing discovery. At the same time, at the University of Arizona, one of our clinicians, Mohab Ibrahim, had independently begun studies of the effects of green light on pain. He was exposing rodents with pain, different pain models, to green light, and showed that green light actually was producing pain relieving effects. Just recently, Mohab published in Cephalalgia, a paper where he did an assessment of patient self-report with migraine where they underwent green light therapy or white light therapy for some period of time, sort of a crossover study. They filled in questionnaires. What he showed was that the green light, it was 2 hours of green light per evening for some period of weeks, actually produced a decrease in the frequency of their migraines and the intensity of their migraines and beneficial effects from a number of different points of view.


I think that, first of all, that outcome has to be validated in a much more rigorous study. Hopefully, that will occur. Then secondly, if the outcome is shown to be true, then what is the mechanism by which green light can produce improvements in migraine, or in other kinds of pain? We don't know that. Mohab had shown that it depends on the visual system. If you put contact lenses on rodents and expose them to the green light, the green light has no beneficial action, so it is dependent upon input to the visual system. But then what is the consequence of that? How does that translate into improvements in responses to pain? This is something that we don't know.
The reason that this I think is important is that it's highly translatable. Humans can experience green light therapy themselves quite easily. We have all kinds of therapies that we can use for the treatment of disease states in humans. These include pharmaceutical therapies, for example. All of these have some level of side effects. But the side effect profile of something like green light is almost non-existent. I mean, as far as we can tell, there is no downside of green light therapy. If this were proven to be effective, then it would be hugely important because pretty much anybody can do it without any significant risk of any deleterious outcomes. I think it's exciting and it's just emerging. I'd love to see where this goes. I think the groups from Dr. Burstein and Dr. Ibrahim are driving this question forward and it's very exciting to see where this will lead.