Uncovering lithium's mode of action

May 21, 2010

Though it has been prescribed for over 50 years to treat bipolar disorder, there are still many questions regarding exactly how lithium works. However, in a study appearing in this month's Journal of Lipid Research, researchers have provided solid evidence that lithium reduces brain inflammation by adjusting the metabolism of the health-protective omega-3-fatty acid called DHA.

Inflammation in the , like other parts of the body, is an important process to help the brain combat infection or injury. However, excess or unwanted can damage sensitive , which can contribute to psychiatric conditions like bipolar disorder or degenerative diseases like Alzheimers.

It's believed that helps treat by reducing brain inflammation during the manic phase, thus alleviating some of the symptoms. Exactly how lithium operates, though, has been debated.

Mireille Basselin and colleagues at the National Institute of Aging and University of Colorado, Denver, took a detailed approach to this question by using mass spectrometry analysis to analyze the chemical composition of brain samples of both control and lithium-treated rats stressed by brain inflammation.

They found that in agreement with some other studies, rats given a six-week lithium treatment had reduced levels of arachidonic acid and its products, which can contribute to inflammation.

In addition, they also demonstrated, for the first time, that lithium treatment increased levels of a metabolite called 17-OH-DHA in response to inflammation. 17-OH-DHA is formed from the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and is the precursor to a wide range of anti-inflammatory compounds known as docosanoids. Other anti-inflammatory drugs, like , are known to also enhance docosanoids in their mode of action.

Basselin and colleagues noted that the concentration of DHA did not increase, which suggests that lithium may increase 17-OH-DHA levels by affecting the enzyme that converts DHA to 17-OH-DHA.

By reducing both pro-inflammatory AA products, and increasing anti-inflammatory DHA products, lithium exerts a double-protective effect which may explain why it works well in bipolar treatment. Now that its mechanism is a little better understood, it may lead to additional uses for this chemical.

More information: "Lithium modifies brain arachidonic and docosahexaenoic metabolism in rat lipopolysaccharide model of neuroinflammation" by Mireille Basselin, Hyung-Wook Kim, Mei Chen, Kaizong Ma, Stanley I. Rapoport, Robert C. Murphy and Santiago E. Farias. www.jlr.org/cgi/content/full/51/5/1049

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researchers describe mechanism that underlies age-associated bone loss

September 22, 2017
A major health problem in older people is age-associated osteoporosis—the thinning of bone and the loss of bone density that increases the risk of fractures. Often this is accompanied by an increase in fat cells in the ...

Researchers develop treatment to reduce rate of cleft palate relapse complication

September 22, 2017
Young people with cleft palate may one day face fewer painful surgeries and spend less time undergoing uncomfortable orthodontic treatments thanks to a new therapy developed by researchers from the UCLA School of Dentistry. ...

Exosomes are the missing link to insulin resistance in diabetes

September 21, 2017
Chronic tissue inflammation resulting from obesity is an underlying cause of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. But the mechanism by which this occurs has remained cloaked, until now.

Thousands of new microbial communities identified in human body

September 20, 2017
A new study of the human microbiome—the trillions of microbial organisms that live on and within our bodies—has analyzed thousands of new measurements of microbial communities from the gut, skin, mouth, and vaginal microbiome, ...

Study finds immune system is critical to regeneration

September 20, 2017
The answer to regenerative medicine's most compelling question—why some organisms can regenerate major body parts such as hearts and limbs while others, such as humans, cannot—may lie with the body's innate immune system, ...

Immune cells produce wound healing factor, could lead to new IBD treatment

September 20, 2017
Specific immune cells have the ability to produce a healing factor that can promote wound repair in the intestine, a finding that could lead to new, potential therapeutic treatments for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), according ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Drcandanesin
not rated yet May 23, 2010
Actually it should be a search for the effect of lithium on colon flora. There are many bacterium that develops during the manic phase and those bacterio produce NO (nitric oxide) derivatives. Those NO derivatives affect brain cells to induce inflammation, though result in bordirline or bipolar affects. One can look into literature on this subjec and find vast amount of trials. Dr. Candan Esin

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.