Clued In to Lithium

Researchers find mechanism that may help explain how lithium benefits bipolar patients

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

(RxWiki News) Researchers from Cardiff University may have determined why lithium -- commonly prescribed for bipolar disorder for more than 50 years -- is an effective treatment for the psychiatric illness.

Scientists have never been exactly sure how lithium, a metal, benefits bipolar patients by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain, but new research suggests a possible mechanism for why the drug works. The finding could lead to better understanding of the disease and thus, even more effective treatments.

An enzyme known as prolyl oligopeptidase (PO) controls a set of genes that determine sensitivity to lithium. The gene called ImpA2 in particular has been associated with differences in some bipolar patients, like PO activity itself, revealing a mechanistic link that could explain why the treatment works.

Professor and study leader Adrian Harwood of Cardiff School of Biosciences said the finding of ImpA2's possible benefit introduces a new mechanism in how lithium affects biplar disorder and may open the door to better treatments with less side effects.

Side effects of lithium can include restlessness, fine hand movements that are difficult to control, loss of appetite, stomach pain or bloating, gas, indigestion, weight gain or loss, dry mouth or excessive saliva in the mouth, tongue pain, change in the ability to taste food and joint pain, among others.

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Review Date: 
January 13, 2011
Last Updated:
January 13, 2011