Lithium May Prevent Brain Damage from Parkinson's

Buck Institute working toward human trials of lithium for Parkinson's patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Lithium has long been a useful drug for conditions such as bipolar disorder and cyclic major depression. Though used most often for mental illness, new research suggests the drug may have other uses.

Preclinical research at Buck Institute for Research suggests that lithium may also help prevent brain damage in Parkinson's patients. Between 50,000 and 60,000 new cases of Parkinson's are diagnosed each year.

In research in a mouse model of the condition, lithium profoundly prevented the aggregation of toxic proteins and cell loss linked to Parkinson's disease. The research, recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research, is nearing human trials in conjunction with standard Parkinson's therapy.

"Lithium may soon be prescribed to treat Parkinson's disease."

Researchers are working to determine correct doses of the drug, but this marks the first time that lithium has been tested in an animal model of Parkinson's disease.

Lead author and Buck professor Dr. Julie Andersen, PhD, said the fact that lithium is known to be safe in humans greatly reduces the trial risk and lowers the hurdle of moving toward human trials.

Andersen said that lithium has been suggested to be neuroprotective in relation to several neurodegenerative conditions including Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease.  Mice were fed lithium at the low end of the therapeutic range.

Anderson called the possibility that lithium could be effective in Parkinson's patients "exciting" because having success with a lower dosage would avoid the risks associated with higher dosages. Overuse of lithium has been linked to hyperthyroidism and kidney toxicity.

Parkinson's is a progressive, incurable neurodegenerative disorder that affects a million Americans and results in tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer's.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 21, 2011
Last Updated:
June 24, 2011