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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Is Light New Neuroscience of Depression?

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 17th 2013

brainFinding the cure for depression has been on scientists minds for quite some time. While most people don’t believe there are any cures (me included), many have tried to find ways to change brain chemistry to alleviate the symptoms. Besides therapy, medication has been the predominant approach, electrical stimulation is another and a more recent one is called Optogenetics that is not yet available to people.  , What is Optogenetics and why may it be or not be the future of how to take over our brains? 

A number of years ago an Emory neurologist Helen Mayberg went beyond chemicals and went electrical when she came up with an approach implanting circuits to a certain area of the brain and then sending low-voltage currents, quieting down the “fear circuit” and ramping up activity to our rational brain. This seemed to alleviate depression in a number of people who seemed intractable. The only problem is that like all things, we you implant something into the brain you run the risk of some serious side effects. 

Other people have tried to Vagus nerve stimulation. The Vagus nerve stretches from the brainstem to the belly. Some people consider it the nerve of compassion and are using electrodes to stimulate it as a means to work with depression. The problem is that the Vagus nerve also responsible for important functions like breathing, swallowing, among others. When you stimulate the nerve you run the risk of having side effects with everything it’s involved with. 

Optogenetics claims that it can plan a protein into the cells of our brains that makes them responsive to light. Unlike electrodes, they can target specific cells to ignite with light and so not to just surge a general current and reduce side effects. 

If you have 20 minutes, here is the Karl Deisseroth, MD to explain it:


This goes beyond electrical into the realm of light. In rats they’ve found that in isolating certain neurons they have seen increased motivation in some contexts. 

If we can increase motivation, then people feel they active participants in their health and well-being and may feel better. 

I don’t think it will come to a point where people are remotely controlling other’s brains just yet. But one thing that is interesting about this is that it can uncover new ways our brains work and this may be helpful for medical and non-medical treatments. 

Food for thought. 

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 


Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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