For the last 60 years, lithium has been the preferred treatment for bipolar disorder, but little research has been carried out to discover how it impacts the brain and the body clock.
New research from the University of Manchester has found that lithium strengthens the body clock’s rhythms, which could lead to new treatments with fewer side effects.
According to Dr. Qing-Jun Meng in the university’s Faculty of Life Sciences, the extreme mood swings in bipolar disorder are associated with disruptions in circadian rhythms — the 24-hour rhythms controlled by our body clocks that govern our day and night activity.
“By tracking the dynamics of a key clock protein, we discovered that lithium increased the strength of the clockwork in cells up to threefold by blocking the actions of an enzyme called glycogen synthase kinase or GSK3,” he said.
The findings are important, he said, because they offer a “novel explanation as to how lithium may be able to stabilize mood swings in bipolar patients.”
The findings also “open up opportunities to develop new drugs for bipolar disorder that mimic and even enhance the effect lithium has on GSK3 without the side-effects lithium salts can cause,” he added. Side effects include nausea, acne, thirstiness, muscle weakness, tremor, sedation and/or confusion.
He noted that GSK3-inhibiting drugs are already in development, as they have been shown to be effective in treating other diseases, including diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Lithium salt has a wide spectrum of targets within cells, in addition to GSK3,” he said, noting that “drugs which only block the actions of GSK3 would therefore have the major advantage of reduced ‘off-target’ effects of lithium.”
The research is published in the journal PLoS One.
Source: University of Manchester