The Scientific Mechanisms of Red Light on the Cellular Level

This article discusses how red light therapy works scientifically, and on a cellular level

This scientific article explores the mechanisms of red light therapy, concentrating on its impact on cellular ATP production and its broader effects on bodily organs and systems.

Multiple scientific hypotheses explain the workings of red light therapy, with the prevailing and widely accepted scientific theory attributing its influence on ATP production to the photoreceptor cytochrome C oxidase (CCO). This scientifically significant protein acts as a photoreceptor, particularly responsive to low-level red and near-infrared light [1, 2].

It’s crucial to scientifically note that CCO’s sensitivity is limited to specific ranges of red light wavelengths, rather than being responsive to all red light.

Copper Centers in CCO: Unraveling the Mechanisms Responsive to Red Light

The true mechanisms behind CCO reacting to wavelengths of light lie in its copper centers. In other words, CCO can oxidize, losing electrons, upon exposure to red light due to its copper centers [3]. This correlation arises because copper is a highly redox-active metal, meaning it is prone to redox reactions—chemical processes involving electron gain and loss between two species. In this case, copper loses an electron. Copper redox reactions are important because, by losing electrons, CCO can further move towards cellular homeostasis [4].

This upregulation and oxidation of copper in CCO are crucial because they enhance CCO’s functionality.

Enhancing ATP Production: The Role of CCO and Mitochondrial Membrane Potential in Red Light Therapy

This is significant, because CCO is the terminal enzyme of the electron transport chain, the series of steps that generate ATP in the mitochondria. Thus optimizing CCO’s functionality through LLLT is believed to increase the ability of the mitochondria to produce ATP. Some studies even cite the increase in ability to produce ATP even further by saying this process increases ATP levels [5].

ATP production is typically determined by Mitochondrial Membrane Potential (MMP) which measures the mitochondria’s activity level and the activity of the electron transport chain, the driving force behind ATP production [6].

Thus, one could view red light as both a lubricant for ATP (making ATP production more efficient) but also acts as fuel (in that it actually helps increase ATP levels in the body).

The chemical equation for cellular respiration which generates ATP (Adenosine triphosphate).
The functions of the CCO (Cytochrome C Oxidase) pump during ATP Production.

GRAPHICS 1 and 2

The Significance of Elevated ATP Levels in Cellular Functions

An elevated ATP level matters because ATP profoundly influences cellular functions, serving as the energy source for every cell in the human body. Increased ATP production from LLLT has macro-scale implications, enhancing muscle recovery, the number of lymphocyte receptors, and more.

In essence, ATP is a pivotal compound integral to various biological processes. Elevated ATP production fosters cellular homeostasis [7], enabling cells to optimally perform their functions.

Cellular Impact of ATP Levels and Red Light Therapy

No matter the type of cell, whether it be skin, muscle, liver, etc., research suggests that increases in ATP play a critical role in a cell’s ability to function. This article states that the mitochondria and the ATP it produces “play essential roles in cell signaling pathways, gene regulation, cell death, and many other functions,” but also concedes that “how … ATP signals can affect downstream functions remains unknown.” It does however seem like chemical and biological signals in the body as a result of increased ATP can affect a cell’s overall functionality [8].

Elevated ATP levels are crucial for improved cell function and to avoid the undesirable linkage to oxidative stress and long-term disease development [9, 10]. This emphasizes the importance of increased ATP production.

Although scientists are uncertain about the precise mechanisms, red light therapy evidently increases ATP production and quantity. In other words, while the causes may not be fully understood, the correlation exists.











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