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Mystery of Lithium Efficacy May Be Solved

Mystery of Lithium Efficacy May Be SolvedFor over 50 years, lithium has been the preferred pharmaceutical intervention for bipolar disorder.

Despite the effectiveness of the medication, knowledge of the actual mechanism by which lithium works its magic has been largely unknown.

A new study solves as least a part of the mystery by providing evidence that lithium reduces brain inflammation by adjusting the metabolism of the health-protective omega-3-fatty acid called DHA.

The research is published in this month’s Journal of Lipid Research.

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

It’s believed that lithium helps treat bipolar disorder 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 the 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 aspirin, 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.

Source: American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Mystery of Lithium Efficacy May Be Solved

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Mystery of Lithium Efficacy May Be Solved. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 10, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/05/24/mystery-of-lithium-efficacy-may-be-solved/14009.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.