Background Exposure to trauma can result in various mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although psychotherapies and pharmacotherapies exist for the treatment of these disorders, many individuals fail to receive treatment and among those who do, many remain symptomatic. Therefore, it is critical to continue developing new interventions for traumatic stress that target underlying mechanisms of pathology and offer a safe and acceptable alternative to current treatments. Morning light treatment has good potential as a novel non-invasive, low risk treatment for traumatic stress. Evidence suggests that morning light may improve traumatic stress by reducing reactivity in the amygdala, a brain region implicated in the pathophysiology of PTSD and anatomically linked to circadian photoreceptors in the eye. Methods In this study, we aim to establish a significant dose-response relationship between duration of morning light treatment and reduction in amygdala reactivity among individuals with traumatic stress symptoms (NCT# 04117347). Using a transdiagnostic approach, sixty-six individuals with a history of a DSM-5 criterion A trauma and traumatic stress symptoms will be recruited to participate in a 5-week study. Participants will be randomized across three treatment arms based on morning light treatment duration: 15-minutes, 30-minutes, or 60-min-utes of light treatment per day for four weeks. To evaluate amygdala activity, participants will undergo fMRI at pre-treatment, mid-treatment, and post-treatment. Participants will also complete clinical assessments and self-report measures of PTSD, depression, and anxiety at pre-treatment, mid-treatment, and post-treatment. Discussion Morning light therapy may be an acceptable, feasible, and effective treatment for individuals suffering from traumatic stress. Identifying mechanistically relevant targets, and the doses needed to impact them, are critical steps in developing this new treatment approach for the sequelae of traumatic stress.
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