• cellular model;
  • image analysis;
  • near-infrared laser;
  • photobiotherapy;
  • wound healing

Background: Clinical studies have demonstrated beneficial outcomes for low-level laser therapy (LLLT) using near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths. It has been hypothesized that the benefits of NIR LLLT are due in part to the thermal effects of NIR exposure. However, it is not clear whether photochemical interactions between NIR light and superficial tissues contribute to beneficial outcomes. To investigate the photochemical effects of NIR exposure, the efficacy of 980 nm NIR LLLT on human fibroblast growth rates is investigated using an in vitro model of wound healing.

Methods: A small pipette is used to induce a wound in fibroblast cell cultures, which are imaged at specific time intervals over 48 h and exposed to a range of laser doses (1.5–66 J/cm2) selected to encompass the range of doses used during other in vivo and in vitro studies. For each image acquired, wound sizes were quantified using a novel application of existing image processing algorithms.

Results: Cell growth rates were compared across different laser exposure intensities with the same exposure duration, and across different laser exposure durations with the same exposure intensity. Exposure to low- and medium-intensity laser light accelerates cell growth, whereas high-intensity light negated the beneficial effects of laser exposure. Cell growth was accelerated over a wide range of exposure durations using medium-intensity laser light, with no significant inhibition of cell growth at the longest exposure durations used in this study.

Conclusion: Low-level exposure to 980 nm laser light can accelerate wound healing in vitro without measurable temperature increases. However, these results also demonstrate the need for appropriate supervision of laser therapy sessions to prevent overexposure to NIR laser light that may inhibit cell growth rates observed in response to lower intensity laser exposure.