Study shows lithium chloride blunts brain damage linked to fetal alcohol syndrom

December 5, 2017, NYU Langone Health

A single dose of lithium chloride, a drug used to treat bipolar disease and aggression, blocks the sleep disturbances, memory loss, and learning problems tied to fetal alcohol syndrome, new experiments in mice show.

Published in the journal Neuroscience online Nov. 26, and led by researchers at NYU School of Medicine, the new study found that giving the drug to newborn 15 minutes after "binge" consumption eliminated the hyperactivity and sleep deficits seen when rodents exposed to alcohol became adults. Moreover, the researchers report, lithium chloride-treated mice were much less likely to show the 25 percent drop in memory and cognitive test scores seen in untreated mice given the same amount of alcohol.

"Our study showed that lithium chloride prevented many of the damaging neurological effects of on the still-developing , especially the impact on the parts of the brain controlling sleep," says co-senior study investigator Donald Wilson, PhD.

Mice given alcohol just after birth are a good model for measuring the impact on human fetal development because the brains of mice pups achieve developmental milestones after birth that are comparable to those in other mammals, including humans.

Wilson, a professor at NYU Langone Health, cautions that it is too early to propose lithium chloride as a treatment or preventive therapy for . The drug is "likely far too risky for pregnant mothers," with known organ toxicities, he says. Further experiments would have to proceed under strict medical supervision to ensure the safety of mothers and children.

A more likely future therapy, says co-senior study investigator Mariko Saito, PhD, would be one that takes advantage of chemistry related to the action of lithium chloride, but with fewer side effects. "Lithium chloride is known to block many pathways that lead to brain cell death, while promoting others that lead to survival, like brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF," says Saito, a research assistant professor at NYU Langone. Further experiments are needed, she says, to determine if chemicals that stimulate BDNF production also blunt the effects of alcohol abuse in newborn mammals.

Of equal importance, the study brings scientists closer to determining if fixing sleep issues tied to fetal alcohol syndrome alone is key to countering the other developmental effects tied to alcohol abuse, says co-lead study investigator Monica Lewin, MS, a doctoral student at NYU Langone.

Among the study's key findings was that mice given lithium chloride after alcohol consumption and mice that never consumed alcohol had the same duration of undisrupted sleep of about 10 hours per day, while untreated mice given alcohol woke up as many as 50 times per hour. Sleep disturbances in animals and humans have long been linked to cognitive and emotional damage.

Recent work by the same group of researchers showed that such disruptions in sleep were also a hallmark of fetal alcohol syndrome, both in animal models and in people. Mice that slept better and longer, whether suffering from alcohol abuse or not, had better brain function than those that slept more poorly. The brain damage associated with fetal alcohol syndrome is believed to afflict one in 33 newborns in the United States and occurs when the developing fetus' mother drinks large amounts of alcohol.

Wilson says the team next plans to investigate if can blunt other forms of neurological damage, such as that resulting from trauma and stroke, both of which can kill large groups of brain cells.

Explore further: Ibuprofen may block damage from fetal-alcohol exposure

Related Stories

Ibuprofen may block damage from fetal-alcohol exposure

November 14, 2017
An anti-inflammatory drug may have the potential to stall the damaging effects of alcohol on the fetal brain, a new study suggests.

Sleep changes seen with fetal alcohol exposure partly explain learning and mood problems

February 24, 2016
Slow-wave sleep - the deeper sleep during which the brain turns each day's events into permanent memories - is fragmented in adulthood in people exposed to high levels of alcohol in the womb.

Frequent alcohol drinking kills new brain cells in adults, females are more vulnerable

November 9, 2017
Researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston recently discovered that alcohol killed the stem cells residing in adult mouse brains. Because the brain stems cells create new nerve cells and are important ...

Drug could block harmful impact of teen binge drinking, researchers report

November 2, 2017
Alcohol-fueled "schoolies" celebrations marking the end of high school for many Australian students have an unexpected impact: their binge-drinking behaviour as teenagers can lead to problems with alcohol and other drug dependence ...

Study pokes holes in fetal alcohol hypothesis

October 4, 2017
A new study published in the journal Brain Behavior and Immunity appears to challenge the theory that cells in the brain's immune system are the culprit behind the neurological damage that occurs in children exposed to alcohol ...

The dangers of driving after restricted sleep and moderate alcohol intake

July 19, 2017
In a recent study, combining moderate alcohol consumption (within legal limits for driving) and moderate sleep restriction led to greater drowsiness and increased deficits in attention, compared with either sleep restriction ...

Recommended for you

Forty percent of people have a fictional first memory, says study

July 17, 2018
Researchers have conducted one of the largest surveys of people's first memories, finding that nearly 40 per cent of people had a first memory which is fictional.

Protein found to be key component in irregularly excited brain cells

July 17, 2018
In a new study in mice, researchers have identified a key protein involved in the irregular brain cell activity seen in autism spectrum disorders and epilepsy. The protein, p53, is well-known in cancer biology as a tumor ...

New drug target for remyelination in MS is identified

July 17, 2018
Remyelination, the spontaneous regeneration of the fatty insulator in the brain that keeps neurons communicating, has long been seen as crucial to the next big advance in treating multiple sclerosis (MS). However, a lack ...

Artificial neural networks now able to help reveal a brain's structure

July 17, 2018
The function of the brain is based on the connections between nerve cells. In order to map these connections and to create the connectome, the "wiring diagram" of a brain, neurobiologists capture images of the brain with ...

Insight without incision: Advances in noninvasive brain imaging offers improvements to epilepsy surgery

July 17, 2018
About a third of epilepsy sufferers require treatment through surgery. To check for severe epilepsy, clinicians use a surgical procedure called electrocorticography (ECoG). An ECoG maps a section of brain tissue to help clinicians ...

Convergence of synaptic signals is mediated by a protein critical for learning and memory

July 16, 2018
Inside the brain, is a complex symphony of perfectly coordinated signaling. Hundreds of different molecules amplify, modify and carry information from tiny synaptic compartments all the way through the entire length of a ...

0 comments

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.